‘No entiendo Ingles’ was the response from the Spanish Flamenco artists we asked for this interview. There was one guy however who responded positively: Manolo Punto. Though his name sounds Spanish, he turned out to be French and was born in Paris. That doesn’t mean he’s not as passionate about his art as his Spanish counterparts. Manolo has built quite a name for himself in the Flamenco world and he dances and tours throughout Europe with his band. We asked him about his passion for the Spanish dance and music and how it changed him.
The art of Flamenco was born in Andalusia in Spain several hundreds of years ago. It was first mentioned in 1774 and originated in the music and dance styles of Andalusia and was later influenced by the Romani people in Spain. The passionate and intense singing and dancing, combined with virtuoso guitar play is nowadays popular throughout the whole world. Of course it spread to neighboring country France too. That’s where a young Manolo saw a Flamenco show for the first time with his parents: “My parents were fans of Flamenco and bullfighting, so when I was around six years old they took me to a show in Paris. I enjoyed it, without knowing it would change my life later on.”
‘Dancing helps me to stop worrying about everything’
Camaron de la Isla
At age fourteen something changes. He finds a record of famous Spanish Flamenco singer Camaron de la Isla and it is an eye opening experience for the teenager. He realizes that Flamenco doesn’t have to be some old, traditional art form, but it can also be something cool: “He created very new and modern things, even though it was very classic in a way. But he did things differently, with orchestras and mixing. I saw that Flamenco could be something new, so I started to become more interested in practicing it instead of only listening to it. I wanted to practice something when I was 14 or 15, but not something old. It had to be something cool”, Manolo remembers. “My father always wanted me to have a sporty activity outside school. I played tennis for a while, but I got bored of it, so when I turned 16 I said: ‘Let’s try flamenco’. I already liked it, so it was natural for me to do.”
Natural or not, it still takes a lot of courage for the then 16-year old Manolo to actually start dancing, but it pays off. After a while he realizes that dancing gives him a sense of freedom he couldn’t find anywhere else and it ignites a fire in him: “ When I was 16 I was a really shy boy. When I watched the dancers at shows, I always wanted to be confident like them”, Manolo Remembers. “Sometimes it was difficult for me to see what wat I saw in the mirror, so when I started taking classes, I learnt to not see myself as a representation of me as a person, but more like an object I could shape. After I learnt that, I went into a trance-like state and I Liked it. I still like it. Dancing helps me to stop worrying about everything. In normal life a think a lot, but when I dance I can forget about things.”
School or dancing?
While he is discovering Flamenco and himself, the young Manolo is still in school. He studies to become an engineer, while his true passion lies in Flamenco. His parents aren’t so sure about him being a dancer though: “They were nervous, because dancing is not a normal life”, the Frenchman explains. “They said I could do whatever I wanted, as long as I finished my engineering study.” He does finish it, but he wants more.
To become a real Flamenco master he needs to get closer to the source. He decides to apply for a scholarship and move to Madrid: “It was just like in the movie Flashdance. I nailed it and got my scholarship”, he recalls. In the Spanish capital he studies Flamenco for a year at the prestigious Flamenco Art academy Amor de Dios, where he learns to master all the different Flamenco styles.
After a year he comes back to Paris, broke and without a job. He starts to put his study to use and works as an engineer. Two years later, in 2002, he needs to make a decision again and again he chooses Flamenco: “I chose the least comfortable thing, because I didn’t want to have any regrets, so I said ‘let’s try’.” Fifteen years later Manolo runs a successful Flamenco business, where he teaches, gives workshops, produces his own shows and creates his own steps.
The shows are the main focus of his company and that’s where the biggest challenge is for Manolo. Like his early influence Camaron de la Isla he has developed his own unique Flamenco style that he tries to incorporate into the many performances he gives every year: “I’m still taking classes to get better. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. The real challenge for me is to take what I learn and come up with unique passos and shows. I want to be creative and use the existing material as little as possible. When people come to my shows I want them to enjoy it because I made them.”
‘You can like Mozart and Pink Floyd at the same time too’
It seems a little contradictory to not use existing, classic steps, knowing that Flamenco has a really strong tradition, but Manolo says it doesn’t really matter. He performs on a regular basis in Spain and the Spanish crowds also seem to like what he has to offer: “People understand that there are different styles. I mean, you can like Mozart and Pink Floyd at the same time too. It also works that way in Flamenco. Besides, I don’t want to be pretentious. I’m not someone from a Gypsy family from Andalusia who started at five years old.”
What Manolo does share with the traditional dancers are his passionate performances. The funny thing is, when you speak with him he is the calmest and most humble guy you can imagine. “It’s better that way. I like the difference. You can be passionate in normal life, but you can’t always be 100% fire. I keep that for the stage”, he explains. What’s even more remarkable is that Manolo doesn’t even want to be remembered as a dancer: “I don’t really see myself as an artist, but other people do. I would rather be remembered as someone walking in the field. Someone who worked hard and was brave. In the end, it’s just a job. Do your job and whatever happens, happens. That’s the most important for me.”
More about Manolo Punto: Website
All photo’s with courtesy of Manolo Punto