El Farruco - the king is dead, long live the king

As we already mentioned in Aficionao nr. 46, the dancer El Farruco died on December 17th 1997. To understand this loss for the flamenco world you have to realise he was more than a gifted dancer. He was the pater familias of the glorious gypsy family and the figure-head of a dying race: the gypsy clan, that lives according to their own laws and manners, where the art of flamenco is handed over from father to son and from mother to daughter. Where artists haven't graduated from dance academy, but who express their suffering  in dance and music at night after their hard work as a blacksmith or a basket-maker.
The biography of El Farruco is steeped with the suffering that flamenco seems to spring from. He was born as Antonio Montoya Flores in Sevilla in 1935 or 1936 - the sources are inconsistent, but for gypsies, age is not that important. He was spoonfed with Flamenco. His great-uncle was the famous guitarist Ramón Montoya, his mother performed as a dancer by the name of 'La Farruca'. She is from a well known gypsy dynasty, the 'Canasteros' (literally: basket-makers, which was also their main trade), which were sticklers for traditions and gypsy laws.
Those were turbulent times. Farruco's father was shot by the Fascists of Franco during the Spanish Civil war (1936-1939). Farruco had to start earning a living by making baskets at a very young age. He'd travelled with the other gypsies and developed his style of dancing by imitating the sound of horses with his feet.

Open curtain
You grow up really fast from such a hard life: he got married at fourteen, became a father at fifteen and was a widower at sixteen. His first grandchild was born when he was thirty-three. By then he had remarried and was the centre of a musical family: his son Juan Antonio 'El Farruquito' had inherited his fathers talent for dancing and daughters Rosario 'La Farruquita'
and Pilar could both sing and dance. El Farruco celebrated triumphs world-wide and received 15 open curtains in the prestigious 'Palace Theatre' in London.

At the height of his fame destiny struck: his only son Farruquito died at 18 by an accident. Farruco was left devastated by grief and withdrew himself into the family circle. Hope dawned when he saw a new heir to carry on the flamenco tradition in the family, in his grandson, who was born in 1983. From his early years he took this Juan Manuel Hernández Montoya (son of Rosario and the singer El Moreno) under his wing, and soon the wonder child received the name of his uncle 'El Farruquito', who died young. Although Farruco, in conformity with the spirit of that time, also taught foreign aficionados who poured in from abroad, handing down the art to his grandchildren came first. He danced a soleares in the movie 'Flamenco' by Saura with Farruquito.

On stage Farruco had the radiation of a gypsy king: with his round belly thrusted out proudly, the sombrero slanted on his head, and the arms held out in front of him, he found a harmonious balance  between his respect for tradition and his own artistic freedom. In one of the last interviews Farruco gave - he had been ill already - he criticised the current trend in flamenco dancing, in which everything seems to revolve around technique: "These days everything is manufactured. You put a piece of plastic in the machine, and a dance comes rolling out. You must not want to put so many figures and things in it. It is enough to lift up an arm, but you have to know hów to lift it, without practising. You have to be able to tell it from the inside. A ballet dancer dances the same every day, a flamenco dancer doesn't." He was not worried about Farruquito having learned this lesson. "It is a precocious child. At one he could already count till ten," he brags about his grandchild, who he regularly calls 'mi capitán' (my captain). And Farruquito? At fourteen he feels the pressure of the great responsibility to continue the
tradition. In the same interview he says about his grandfather: "For me he is the greatest, for me he's a god, because he taught me everything, since I was a toddler. We'll continue to do what he's always done."

How was it the French used to say? "The king is dead. Long live the king!"

Marlies Jansen
(English translation Carmen Morilla, 08 March, 1999)

Sources: ‘El Farruco’ in Anda! nr. 17, spring 1998 and interview broadcasted in the
Spanish radio program ‘Duendeando’.

With thanks to Brecht Saanswijk and Alexandra Bruel for sending a tape with the interview
and to Mely Fernandez for her help in deciphering Farruco’s slightly unclear Spanish.