Structure of a flamenco show

You may be wondering what a traditional flamenco show is like… what can you expect to see?

When you enter a tablao or small flamenco theatre, you discover a minimalist Andalusian-style décor consisting of a wooden platform (called a tabla) with two, three or maybe four straight-backed chairs lined up against the back wall, each hung with a beautiful, brightly coloured, embroidered shawl.

Ranged around three sides or in front of the tabla are chairs, bar stools or maybe small tables, for the audience. In most tablaos, there is generally also a bar so you can order drinks and tapas or picoteos (nibbles) to enjoy during the show.

A show in a tablao is generally between 60 and 90 minutes long.

When the show begins, a flamenco cuadro or troupe takes the stage – one at a time or all together. The smallest cuadro is made up of a guitarist, a singer, and a dancer. There could be two or more singers or two dancers, dancing solo and as a couple.

First on stage is the guitarist playing a short introductory piece from the chair on the far right. When tone and rhythm have been set, the singer joins in, sitting in the middle chair, effortlessly blending voice with the guitar’s chords. The guitarist becomes the singer’s accompanist, then as a dancer takes the floor, the dancer’s accompanist. The singer supports the dancer with palmas (clapping) and jaleos (shouts like “ole!”).

Dancers often begin their performance with a fiery palo performed with castanets.
Various numbers or palos (“dance styles”) follow one after the other with the focus passing seamlessly from one artist to the next.

These palos are governed by sets of strict rules which define them.Flamenco artists improvise within these boundaries with an impressive freedom of expression.

Dancers usually leave the tabla after the first part of a performance and return later on in a different and even more stunning costume.

At some point in the proceedings, the guitarist plays a solo showing off exquisite flamenco guitar techniques.

As the show progresses, the sad or passionate mood of earlier numbers is perhaps replaced with something livelier and more light-hearted, like an alegria, a palo whose name means “joy”.

Shows generally end with a fin de fiesta (“end of the party”) during which all the artists stand up and perform together.The guitarist sings, the singer dances, or the dancer sings or invites audience members up to perform a few moves on stage. The cuadro finally leaves the stage amidst rapturous applause and shouts of “Bravo” and “Ole!” from the audience.