By Maria Rieder (School of Modern Languages and Applied Linguistics)
The School of Modern Languages and Applied Linguistics (MLAL) and the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (IWAMD) proudly presented the Irish première of the award-winning documentary Alalá (2016) at UL on Wednesday 14th March.
Alalá, directed by photographer, producer and director Remedios Malvárez, is a passionate and powerful portrait of a Seville flamenco school for children and the important transformative role it plays in the marginalised neighbourhood in which it is located.
Las Tres Mil Viviendas in Seville has a high population of Spanish Gypsies and has been given a negative image by the media. In recent years, however, this neighbourhood has been transformed into a multicultural space, not least due to the selfless commitment of renowned guitarist Emilio Caracafé. Together with other artists, Emilio offers in Alalá his personal vision of this neighbourhood, where flamenco becomes a source of empowerment, opportunities and social transformation. The film has won several awards and has been featured at a large number of film festivals in Spain and abroad.
Flamenco can become not only an important way of expression of emotions, but becomes the language of education
The film was introduced by Dr Cinta Ramblado, Head of the School of Modern Languages and Applied Linguistics, thanks to whom we were able to access the documentary. Cinta, a native of Huelva, the same as the director of the film, shared with us what flamenco means for her, and for her community. She urged us to share the learning experience that Malvárez undergoes and films in her documentary. In this process, Remedios and her team overcome prejudice and delve into the dynamics of a neighbourhood castigated by poverty, racism and crime. Alalá offered us a fresh look into another reality, another version of the life of those in Las Tres Mil Viviendas.
The joy and beauty that lie in the teachers’ dedication to the project, to keeping the children away from the streets and showing them ways of expression, have personal and educational benefits that go far beyond the teaching of music and dance
Alalá means ‘Joy’ in Caló, the language of the Spanish Gypsies, reflecting not only the spirit of flamenco, but equally the spirit of the school and the foundation (of the same name) that supports it. The joy and beauty that lie in the teachers’ dedication to the project, to keeping the children away from the streets and showing them ways of expression, have personal and educational benefits that go far beyond the teaching of music and dance; beyond its recognisable and deeply emotional character, flamenco combines a rootedness in tradition with transformative freedom of expression, incorporating a diversity of features of music and dance.
Teaching flamenco then means that the children internalise these roots and get anchored in their community’s tradition, while at the same time being encouraged to own it and give it their personal note of expression. Moreover, impressive images of children’s interpretation of traditional flamenco songs show how flamenco can become not only an important way of expression of emotions, but becomes the language of education more generally: It teaches them about their roots, but also discipline, respect, pride, self-confidence, team-spirit and sensitivity in listening to other people’s expression.
In its strong rootedness and integrating openness, flamenco is most importantly to be seen as a way of life, and the film skilfully interweaves scenes of flamenco song and dance with authentic shots of the wider community’s day-to-day reality. We learn about a deep sense of community, a strong loyalty and commitment to not only the core family but extended family members and beyond, as well as a welcoming openness and inclusiveness of people from outside the community.
Overall, the film was a touching experience for the audience at the Irish premiére and inspired a rich round table discussion chaired by Dr Máiréad Moriarty, ADI, and which brought together expertise across the different research areas of the Faculty, from sociolinguistics to ethnocoreography, including IWAMD colleagues Dr Catherine E. Foley and Dr Mats Melin, and postgraduate students Ana Camillo and Rebeca Mateos Morante.
The discussion touched on topics such as counter-narratives and representation, authenticity, knowledge and ownership, integration vs adaptation and on the impact of local movements on more global challenges. For me personally, the film raised important questions about the consequences that allowing or disallowing marginalised communities to express themselves freely have for the well-being of the wider community and society more generally.
For more information on the documentary, visit produccionessingulares.com/alala-2/.