Carmen Mesa, Bailaora (in a still from the video “9 Vidas” by Macarena Zorraquín & Juampi Correa)
Carmen, lying on the floor where the sunlight is streaming in from the north-facing window, looks up from her book and stares out the window. There is a flower in her hair, one she picked from a bush in the park this morning. It has graced her wavy, dark brown hair throughout this long and glorious day.
Carmen, peripatetic, lives by her feet. From Andalusia, she made her way to Argentina and now flits back and forth along a migratory path that has become instinct. She knows that she is flamenco by birthright and by sweaty hours of practice. But she has also been seduced by the strange poetry of Argentina
In 2020 she made a magnificent film “P’atrás Ni Pa’ Tomar Impulso” (which translates as “Never a Step Back!”). The film weaves together her personal and professional lives, a failed romance, her sister’s death in Spain and her work and travels across Argentina teaching flamenco and especially her time spent with indigenous communities in the countryside. Part biopic, part documentary, part ode, the film shines with the incredible life force that spews from this petite, joyful and thoroughly indomitable woman.
It is what you would expect from someone steeped in the fierce culture of flamenco. All that stomping on the floor, all that intensity and defiance. In tango we seek salvation in another’s embrace but in flamenco, it is you against the world and everything it throws at you.
And the maximum expression of all that bravado is the bailaora. All the music, all the heels pounding the floor, all the guitars and clapping hands arranged in a semi-circle serve just one purpose: to bring forth the precious, ferocious flower of the bailaora.
Seeing Carmen standing in my kitchen, I realize that someone who has not seen her unleashed might mistake her for a mere mortal. Charming, sparkly and compact, Carmen would be welcome at any party. She speaks with that colorful and somewhat formal phrasing of Spanish from Spain — and with that beautiful accent. But I — who have seen her on fire on stage — cannot see her as one of us. I know she has reached the other side, is in touch with the root source. She need only stomp her heel but once on the wooden floor and she is transformed into a powder keg, an explosion of drama and flourishes accented by her hands. Pure kinetic poetry
The wanderer’s life has forced Carmen to ruthlessly shed her possessions. A couple of suitcases filled with dresses for performing and her dance shoes is all that remains. The relentless filter of travel has lead her to leave more and more things behind.
Lounging around after lunch Carmen says, “But it’s okay. What more do I really need? Anyway, what would I do with all those things? I can’t carry them.”
And then she adds, “Just give me a flower, a book and dream and I’ll be fine.”