- Flamenco and Bullfighting: Movement, Passion and Risk in Two Spanish Traditions by Adair Landborn
Adair Landborn provides an in-depth examination of two activities grounded in Spanish tradition and culture: flamenco dance and bullfighting, discussing their similarities and shared values. Focusing on what she calls “kinesthetic culture,” the author shows how both express cultural beliefs that are firmly based in and connected to the human body. The study of the “somatic processes and kinetic enactments” (9) that underlie flamenco and bullfighting allows Landborn to delve into the different manners in which culture resides in and is transformed by the human body. Although neither of these practices can be technically categorized as a sport, both allow the author to discuss the connections between performance, movement, and culture, something inherent to all sporting practices.
The volume begins with an overview of the theory and meaning of kinesthetic culture, discussing the concept of ethnocentricity from both etic and emic perspectives to provide a [End Page 237] more complete picture of how cultural relativity and performativity are useful to understand the importance of flamenco and bullfighting (16). Seeing both practices as “a cultural given” (3), the author takes a clear position in the controversies around bullfighting, acknowledging her own contradictory responses but arguing that the “dynamic tensions and interplay” between human and bull and the movements define this, where she finds “the reconciliation of beauty and tragedy” (5). This theoretical approach is enhanced by a deeper look into other significant issues intrinsic to both practices. For example, the social behaviors that emerge from these performances are examined using different lenses. A sensory approach discusses issues like boundaries, proximity, and eye contact, a performative interactive lens looks into music and vocalization, and a social lens discusses psychological catharsis and courtship, further demonstrating the similarities between both. Other elements, such as the aesthetic rules that define both practices and the context in which they are performed, complete the theoretical background of the volume and provide valuable insights into Spanish culture and tradition.
The last three chapters in the volume describe the author’s direct experiential field research with both practices. As a professional dancer and bullfighting student and enthusiast, Landborne uses her own personal experience with both art forms to discuss how the “risks, artistic experiences, and cross-cultural adventures” increased her “somatic/kinesthetic understanding of both movement traditions” (7). Employing techniques such as Laban’s Movement Analysis, where concepts of body, shape, space, and effort are discussed, the author shows how the dynamics of flamenco dance footwork mirror the rush of energy that prevails in bullfighting. This “impactive phrasing locates flamenco dance in relationship to the dangerous bullfighting arena, and its reiteration in the dance serves as a somatic metonym for the emotions associated with the bullfight arena: fear, courage, and triumph” (222). Further similarities between both practices are highlighted in the last two chapters, which discuss movement directives and motifs (arcing, spiraling, eye usage, and improvisation), firmly positioning flamenco and bullfighting as performances driven by risk and passion that reflect the kinesthetic culture of Spain (269). A lavish use of photographs (including several of the author in action) and movement diagrams help to illustrate some of the more technical points. A detailed glossary of Spanish terms related to flamenco and bullfighting is included and further helps clarify the text.
Flamenco and Bullfighting introduces the reader to the complex kinesthetic theory and practice that underlie these two artistic expressions. By incorporating her own personal experiences in both practices the author helps expand, exemplify, and clarify many significant themes that permeate them. However, the priority placed on the author’s “own interests and emerging perspectives” (6) means that other important topics, such as the role played by gender or the history of both traditions, are not addressed. As Landborn herself states, this volume “does not aim to prove anything regarding these two cultural practices, but rather offers a report based on my research . . . and my direct personal experiences” (6). This implies that the discussions will appeal especially to those...