Nineteenth-century Romantic imagery hardened some of the most enduring stereotypes of Spanishness such as flamenco, Holy Week and bullfighting. Yet at the dawn of the twentieth century, historical avant-garde movements cultivated a construction of Spanish culture, whereby the role of music and flamenco dance was key.
Théophile Gautier’s statement “Boleros and fandangos appear to revive attention”, in 1847, resonated once more among historical avant-garde movements, in which the stereotype of Spanish culture was reformulated. Flamenco, which in the late nineteenth century had already gained paradigmatic status in popular culture, would become a decisive reference point from the genesis of avant-garde art. One example was the guitar, which repeatedly appeared in cafés and artists’ studios denoting bohemian life; its aesthetic plasticity and, above all, tactile quality —an object with the distinctive quality of being brought to life when played — was particularly valued by Cubists. The same performative quality appeared in the representations of flamenco dancers, in which the dress, the shawl and the fan, representing a kind of possession by movement, took part in the same break-up of the three-dimensional form.
Salient in this recovery of flamenco was Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which had incorporated Spanish subject matter into its repertoire following time spent in the country during the First World War. In Spain, dance figures such as La Argentina, the music of Falla and Granados, neo-popular poetry written by poets like García Lorca and Moreno Villa, and the 1922 Concurso de Cante Jondo de Granada (the Granada Contest of Deep Song) were pivotal because of their close ties to avant-garde creators.
One such figure was dancer Vicente Escudero, who achieved acclaim in Paris in the 1920s with a repertoire of classical Spanish dance, the same dance that succeeded on the international stage in La Argentina’s adaptation. Escudero’s contact with avant-garde artists radicalised his work, leading it towards investigations of primitive flamenco dance and cante jondo, or “deep song”. He also produced sketches synthesising the frozen gesture of the dancer — masterfully captured in the photography of Man Ray and Edward Steichen — almost in a similar fashion to Miró’s Danseuse espagnole I (Spanish Dancer I, 1928), displayed in the same room.