The silence of flamenco

Deaf dancer Ángeles Narváez choreographs shows that mix bodily movement with sign language

Dancer Ángeles Narváez (standing) with filmmaker Remedios Malvárez.
Dancer Ángeles Narváez (standing) with filmmaker Remedios Malvárez.PACO PUENTES

María de los Ángeles Narváez Anguita, aged 38 and the mother of a three-year-old boy, is a dancer and entrepreneur who has created a flamenco company that is as stable as can be expected under the present circumstances, especially given that it does not count on state subsidies. She has also been deaf since the age of six, an obstacle that has not stopped her from performing in some of the most prestigious flamenco festivals in Spain, such as the Seville Biennial.

Narváez is known professionally as La Niña de los Cupones, an affectionate nickname given to her by neighbors in Seville that refers both to legendary flamenco singer La Niña de los Peines and her job selling lottery tickets (cupones) for Spanish blind association ONCE. But her real passion and profession is dancing. She says she always knew this and wasn’t going to let her disability get in the way.

Narváez suffered complete hearing loss in her right ear after being treated for whooping cough with streptomycin. Her left ear can only register sounds above 30 decibels, which means she needs to wear a powerful hearing aid.

I’m not incapacitated, I just have different capacities”

She says she cannot remember the sounds of her childhood, but that she is deeply musical and feels sound waves on her skin. She learns her pieces by heart, and follows the singer’s mouth movements and clapping. “I’m not incapacitated, I just have different capacities,” she says. Terms to describe people with hearing, sight, or other difficulties can be obstacles to recognizing their skills and abilities, she believes.

Soon after losing her hearing, she was admitted to the prestigious Paco Palacios flamenco school, moving on in 1990 to the equally celebrated Matilde Coral academy, finishing her studies in Spanish dance at the Seville Conservatory nine years later.

After working with many of the biggest names in flamenco, she decided to set up her own company, incorporating sign language into three shows: 30 decibelios (30 decibels), En el aire (In the air) and Sorda (Deaf), which she has performed in France and Spain.

Her work has been praised by filmmaker Remedios Malvárez, who has just completed Silencio, a documentary about Narváez’s life and work. “I was surprised at how she overcame her disability, converting it into art,” Malvárez says. “She is highly professional, an excellent dancer, top class.” The film is due to be shown at several international documentary festivals this fall.

Narváez insisted that she did not want her deafness to overshadow her dancing in the film

Malvárez says that before they started filming, Narváez insisted that she did not want her deafness to overshadow her dancing. The film begins with a poem called Silencio, which Narváez wrote and interprets orally and with sign language:

El silencio vive en todas mis horas. Silence lives in all my hours.

El silencio no hará callar a mi boca. Silence will not keep me quiet.

Te bailo. I dance for you.

Te canto y te hablo. I sing to you and I talk to you.

Te lleno de flamenco puro como el silencio. I fill you with flamenco as pure as silence.

De saberte sorda. Knowing you as deaf.

De saberme sorda. Knowing I am deaf.

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