Sonia Olla and Ismael Fernandez, March, 2016
Flamenco tablaos—usually restaurants or cafes where aficionados can enjoy a professional flamenco show in a relaxed setting, often with tapas and a glass of wine—might feel “traditional,” but their history isn’t long. One of the earliest opened in 1956 in Madrid. By 1972, tablaos were flourishing throughout the Spanish capital, but by 2014, they had pretty much disappeared, though a number can still be found in Andalucia. In an homage to the flamenco tablao, the World Music Institute closed their Ay! Mas Flamenco 2016 festival with “Tablao Sevilla” at Alegrias on March 6, presenting dancer Sonia Olla, singer Ismael Fernandez, and guitarist Angel Ruiz to a packed house.
Music critic Pablo Sanz compared tablaos to jazz clubs or literary cafes, calling them “the natural spaces for the art [of flamenco], the indispensable lungs with which it breathes” (El Mundo, 2014). Nevertheless, not every flamenco artist flourishes in the tablao setting. Flamenco performers frequently rely on their status as icons, but the up-close format of the tablao puts far more than technique and persona on view; it reveals the human being inside the performer, warts and all. For a flamenco artist to succeed in a tablao, he or she must have warmth and generosity of spirit, as well as an authentic mastery of the art. All three performers in “Tablao Sevilla” shared those qualities, and the effect was simultaneously heartwarming and thrilling.
Born in Barcelona, Sonia Olla made her professional debut in 1999 with Rafael Amargo, having studied with Merce Esmeralda, Manolo Marín, and Antonio Canales. Above and beyond her impeccable technical credentials, she’s got the attitude to carry off with equal aplomb a light-hearted alegrias, an inward-looking solea, and a killer bulerias. Her dancing comes from within, so it has its own aire. And because it has its own aire, it is a rare thing, and sought-after; it’s no wonder Madonna has asked Sonia Olla to choreograph her Rebel Heart tour.
Ismael Fernandez, from the legendary Gypsy Fernandez family, won the National Contest of Cordoba in 2004. He is in frequent demand on the international scene for his ability to manipulate his striking voice, stretching notes in time, timbre, and pitch to create the “dark tones” and long lines so prized in flamenco song. He’s sung with and for such flamenco legends as Farruquito, Antonio Canales, and El Torombo.
Their accompanist, Angel Ruiz, hails from Cordoba. Not only does his playing have the depth and fluidity that characterizes Spanish flamenco guitar and makes him an admirable soloist, but he also makes the perfect team player, supporting the cuadro with grace and ease.
The show opened with Sonia playing her fan as Angel played guitar. Ismael entered from the back, calling to the pair on stage. With his approach, Sonia abandoned the fan and broke into bulerias, responding to the electricity that always warms the stage when the husband-and-wife team perform together. Their connection—to each other, to the music, to the audience—is what makes their shows so special, and they continued to spur each other on throughout the evening, peaking with a solea that reached straight into your gut.
Like many other contemporary flamenco artists, Sonia and Ismael are adept at blending traditional flamenco with nontraditional components. In their show “Tiempo al Aire,” which they first performed at the Boulevard Theater in 2013 and reprised at Joe’s Pub as part of the Flamenco Festival USA in 2014, they danced and sang to saxophone and world percussion. But unlike many other contemporary flamenco artists, Sonia and Ismael revel in the rhythms and sonorities of traditional flamenco. You can just feel that it’s the stuff that makes them whole and happy. And that’s how they made the audience whole and happy, too, at “Tablao Sevilla”—by sharing their love of flamenco with those who recognize and love them for it.
La Lupi in RETOrno, March, 2016
As a part of the Ay! Mas Flamenco series from World Music Institute, La Lupi presented RETOrno at Symphony Space. In her program notes, her intent in this program was to present and honor the artist of yesteryear “in search of …. ‘less is more’”. Skilled in the manipulation of props, she whipped the manton (shawl) with abandon, flipped a bata de cola (skirt with long train) like a tail and twirled a Cordovan hat. With style and expression, La Lupi personalized traditional forms and made them contemporary. Her love of the artistry of yore was evident and she infused it with individuality and with rigor.
La Lupi did not so much exhibit nuance in her dance than demonstrate a generosity and larger than life personality. Spiraling serpentine arms in one moment and stabbing her abdomen with a fan into a Martha Graham contraction in the next, she is a master of the heroic gesture and valiant stance. The program began with an earthy tangos, all rolling hips and gypsy attitude.
Elegance turned to raucousness in a millisecond. With two singers and excellent guitarist, she presented a show of diversity and musical sophistication. Oftentimes, the dance enhanced the music, but much of the time, the footwork was lost due to lack of amplification.
One of the most magical moments of the evening was the simplest, and perhaps this is when less really was more. She entered the stage with a short black slip, beige shoes and holding a rainstick. She integrated movement and the sound of trickling water with the simple song of the guitar. I could’ve seen much more of this as it was a relief between sound and fury.
Barbara Chan (substituting for Judy Myers)
Joaquin Grilo, March, 2016
Joaquin Grilo’s show at Symphony Space was one of the most sophisticated flamenco programs to visit America in decades. “Sophisticated” originally meant ‘tainted’ or ‘impure,’ but today it implies a show either calculatedly elegant or one whose complexity derives from intelligence and mastery. Grilo’s show, presented by the World Music Institute on March 4 as part of the Ay! Mas Flamenco festival, was sophisticated of the latter kind.
Grilo dedicated the show to Pacio de Lucia, his teacher, mentor, and colleague, with whom he toured for seven years. Paco traveled around the world as a young man, meeting artists from other traditions who opened his ears to new instruments, improvisation, and harmonies. This allowed him to discover a freedom in music he did not see in traditional flamenco, whose structures he described as “frozen.” Paco did not discard those structures, however frozen he might have perceived them to be; he unfroze them by responding to them in a different way. This in turn became the essence of Grilo’s homage to Paco—a completely individualized response to flamenco’s fundamental structures.
Growing up within the Gypsy tradition of flamenco gave both Grilo and Paco the natural ease with flamenco rhythms that comes from early exposure, an ease that serves as the basis for improvisation uninhibited by calculation. Paco told the BBC, “My father and all my brothers played guitar, so before I picked it up, I knew every flamenco rhythm. I knew the feeling and the meaning of the music, so when I started to play, I went directly to the sound I had in my ear.” The sound in the ear is what characterized Grilo’s show—organic, rather than invented, innovation, and therein lay its sophistication.
The cast was pared down to its essence: dancer Joaquin Grilo, singer Jose Valencia, and guitarist Juan Requena. Grilo possesses the star quality and male physicality of actor Hugh Jackman, but these characteristics are laced through with vulnerability, sense of humor, and unerring musicality, which he applied to his entire body—shoulders, hair, hips—as well as his feet. Valencia has been onstage since he was five. His aim is to break the mold of the cantaor sitting in a chair; he transforms the singer into a protagonist who moves about the stage. What sets him apart is his ability to portray compas with his body as well as his voice, using his hands, fingers, and arms as base, ornamentation, and counterrhythm in a complex rhythmic cycle. Guitarist Juan Requena gained prominence with his show “Arroyo de la Miel” at last year’s festival in Jerez, in which he worked with the great Remedia Amaya. He and Valencia work together frequently, which made their collaboration at Symphony Space even more seamless.
The show began with Grilo, Valencia, and Requena each doing a solo number in a different palo, alone in the spotlight, allowing the audience to better appreciate the separate function and beauty of dance, cante, and guitar. It also introduced the audience to the personal idiosyncracies of each player and promoted better appreciation when the separate elements are put together. The artists then performed together in a taranto, followed by an alegrias introduced not by “tiriti tan tran tran tran” but by a surprising duet of palmas and zapateado.
The show climaxed with solea. Valencia introduced the compas with palmas, to which Grilo added his own. Then Grilo started marking in place, and the ineffable descended. At moments he was so magnificent he didn’t seem real, like a mythological hero; at others he seemed heartbreakingly vulnerable, and close at hand. Completely without sound, he transfixed the audience with his ability to convey the full range of the human experience without moving from his spot.
This review began by saying that Grilo’s show was one of the most sophisticated flamenco programs to appear in America in decades. The other was Noche Flamenca’s “Antigona.” What made both programs so outstanding was their recognition of the possibilities inherent in flamenco and their insightful approach to developing those possibilities. Grilo pared flamenco down to its most essential elements, whereas “Antigona” extracted flamenco from its context and recast it in Greek myth, yet both shows illuminate what is most fascinating and intelligent in flamenco and why its meaning will endure.
Anton Jimenez, October, 2015
Pacio de Lucia and Camaron de la Isla instigated a musical revolution that forever changed the way flamenco sounds. It is heard most clearly in solo flamenco guitar, where the incorporation of new chords, intervals, and keys leads to compositions that can sound distinctly un-flamenco to anyone who doesn’t regularly listen to them. At the same time, guitar still retains its traditional role as accompaniment to flamenco song and dance, where it maintains flamenco’s original voice.
On October 3, Gitano guitarist Anton Jimenez performed both the old and the new at Roulette, a comfortable performance space in Brooklyn, where he was presented by Robert Browning Associates. Jimenez, who’s related to guitar luminaries Ramon Montoya and Mario Escudero, played at family gatherings as a child, then launched his professional career accompanying singer Diego El Cigala and dancer Joaquin Cortes. His background and training are the most authentic and pure, but it is his latent talent that allows him to communicate both with un-self-conscious assurance.
Throughout the concert Jimenez alternated between original solo pieces and traditional flamenco palos, demonstrating both pre- and post-Paco sonorities. His own compositions were particularly melodious while still retaining traditional techniques. For old-style alegrias and bulerias, he was accompanied by New York–based flamenco stars La Conja and Nelida Tirado on palmas, and on cane for an especially moving siguriya. In the relaxed, improvisatory atmosphere, both flamencas broke out in dance, and La Conja sang a few letras of bulerias, to the obvious delight of the audience. The feel-good evening ended with a charming fin de fiesta, a perfect way to end a night that felt like a happy gathering of simpatico friends.
Generations of Gypsy Flamenco, March, 2015
When UNESCO awarded flamenco the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, they specified that flamenco “is the badge of identity of numerous communities and groups, in particular the Gitano (Roma) ethnic community, which has played an essential role in its development.” Nevertheless, as flamenco gained fame internationally, Gypsy flamenco became a subset, rather than the whole, of the artform. For many flamenco aficionados, including myself, Gypsy flamenco is not only the most interesting but also the most outstanding form. That’s what made “Generations of Gypsy Flamenco,” presented at Town Hall on March 20, in association with Robert Browning Associates and Festival Flamenco Gitano USA, such a thrill.
Gypsy flamenco is distinguishable from other forms in what rises from its expert manipulation of the technical elements of the art: compas; phrasing, especially building up to a climactic release, known as a remate; and the interaction, based on accommodation, between the members of the group of singers and musicians. While it’s less about the quality of the individual artists and more about what happens between them, what happens between them depends on the quality of the artists and their ability to draw instinctively on the language of flamenco, an instinct born not of blood but of lifelong association with the art. Experiencing Gypsy flamenco is unlike watching other types of flamenco shows; because the group is the point, it is pointless to watch the dancer without also watching the palmero, pointless to listen to the singer without paying attention to the guitar. Unless you see everything that’s happening, you see nothing. Because “Generations of Gypsy Flamenco” was such an outstanding example of Gypsy flamenco, this mechanism was crystal clear.
It was especially obvious in two sections of the show: the bulerias por solea danced by Gema Moneo, and a section of cante and guitar by guest artist Esperanza Fernandez and guitarist El Perla. Gema Moneo is young, with a barely contained wildness, but she already has a majesty reminiscent of Manuela Carrasco. She doesn’t dance for the audience; she’s impelled by the energy of the group, which we feel through her body. The guitarist El Perla is, without exaggeration, the perfect partner. As Esperanza’s rich voice took us through media granaina, malaguena, and tangos de Nina de los Peines, El Perla’s guitar was inseparable from her energy. Sometimes, especially with modern or hybrid form, you can’t figure the compas out. With El Perla, you can’t escape it.
Cantaor Joe Valencia is listed in the playbill as “one of the few internationally recognized flamenco singers who has not crossed over into other genres or experimented with fusions.” Focusing on famenco alone has allowed him to inhabit the vast depth and intricacy of cante, manipulating pitch and tonal quality into the highest expression of the form.
Headliner Pepe Torres seemed a little distracted; this was not his best show. His ordinarily explosive improvisation, which can propel him across the stage in a single musical phrase, was dialed down, while Concha Vargas, the veteran “star” of the ensemble, brought all the aire—and some of the requisite footwork—to her performance.
Flamenco historian Brook Zern once posed the question, What is flamenco? I would answer by pointing to the stage at Town Hall on March 20 and saying, “This is. All else is subset.”
Sara Baras in Voces, March, 2015
In Voces, Suite Flamenca, Sara Baras pays tribute to the six flamenco artists who most influenced her: Paco de Lucia, Camaron de la Isla, Antonio Gades, Enrique Morente, Moraito, and Carmen Amaya. Adorning the stage with large negative-image posters and interspersing recorded reminiscences by these flamenco greats between her company’s live numbers, Baras paints a full picture of her vision of contemporary flamenco. Voces, presented at New York’s City Center on March 6, brought cheers of adoration from the packed house.
The essence of her show, as well as the problems she faces as a modern flamenco artist, are best summed up in what Enrique Morente has to say: “In flamenco there are no masters; there are disciples. I belong to a generation in which there weren’t masters…. The best music to come from the school of flamenco has already been made. It is different from that of current flamenco, the music that is being made at the moment. Of course, the artist really has to live in their surroundings, in the world in which they live… I don’t think that art should have restrictions; art must have freedom. Everything is possible, and what matters is the result. Flamenco, at the same time that it’s becoming more and more universal, is so becoming bigger and bigger. We mustn’t be pessimistic; we must be optimistic and encourage the younger generation. I much prefer being free than being tightly squeezed into a square-shaped peg that says nothing and passes nothing on to others.”
This perfectly poses the problem the contemporary flamenco artist faces: What do you do when the best music has already been made? Do you dig even deeper within the tradition, like Farruquito? Do you attempt to change the form itself, like Israel Galvan (and Paco de Lucia and Camaron, two of the artists Baras honors in the show)? Do you merge it with other forms, as Baras herself has done in the past?
In Voces, Baras has responded with a simple answer: Do what you do best. What Baras does best is footwork. Her escobillas are cuadrado—square, with very little syncopation, almost predictable—but her execution is fantastically precise and beautifully musical. She also has a ton of aire, so watching her is a pleasure.
Though much of the rest of the show is disposable in terms of dance, other notable moments include a far-too-brief segment in which guest artist Juan Serrano mimes a bullfight; a well-choreographed tientos that made fine use of flamenco’s arresting angles and diagonals; and a jazzy tangos, accompanied by saxophone—an instrument previously incorporated to great effect by Sonia Olla and Ismael Fernandez “de la Rosa” in their show in Queens.
Which brings us to another fundamental question about flamenco, which can only be answered by the individual concertgoer: What do you hope to get out of this show?
Many go to watch great dancing. For others, flamenco is a different experience that has little to do with watching. It is about being pulled into a well you can’t get out of, a place where the mysteries of the universe are revealed. This is not unique to flamenco—it can be found in the black pits at the center of the WTC memorial, and the melodic line of Bach’s Adagio in D minor. Not every flamenco artist searches for, or even wants, this place. Certainly not every audience member wants to go there.
In Voces, those moments, though few, were delivered in the cante, especially the singing of Rubio de Pruna, who has worked with flamenco greats Manuela Carrasco and Farruquito, delivering the “black notes” that bring tears to the eye.
Between Baras’s dancing and Rubio de Pruna’s cante, Voces is sufficiently well executed to satisfy all but the most exacting audience members. Considering the depth and complexity of flamenco, that’s great praise and reason to seek Baras out in the future.
New York Flamenco Festival 2014, March, 2014
This year’s flamenco festival should be viewed in light of Theseus’s paradox, an ancient thought experiment that poses a difficult question: If an object has all its parts reeplaced, is it still the same object? Specifically, if we list the elements that are essential to flamenco—compas, cante, a specified dance vocabulary, etc.—how many of these can be eliminated, replaced, or changed before it’s no longer flamenco? It’s necessary to add that the debate about what constitutes flamenco no longer pits gypsy flamenco puro against academy flamenco; it hasn’t for a long time. Today the issue centers around the degree to which modern dance vocabulary, staging, and attitude have preempted flamenco, whether puro or otherwise.
The point of intersection between this year’s flamenco festival and modern dance can be found in this description of dance theater, which was developed by modern dance pioneer Rudolf von Laban in the 1920s: “The name tanztheater [dance theater] refers to a performance form that combines dance, speaking, singing and chanting, conventional theater and the use of props, set, and costumes in one amalgam. It is performed by trained dancers. Usually there is no narrative plot; instead, specific situations, fears, and human conflicts are presented. Audiences arestimulated to follow a train of thought or to reflect on what the tanztheater piece express. It has been described as a new twist on an old form: German Expressionism.” (“Compulsion and Restraint, Love and Angst,” by Roland Langer, 1984, Dance magazine, 1984, 58, no. 6).
Nothing could better describe each of the four concerts in the festival than Langer’s description of dance theater. The opening gala, headlined by Antonio Canales, was pure theater in the Western vein. In terms of Theseus’s Paradox, flamenco was not displaced by modern dance; it was enhanced. From Cantes, in which four members of the company danced isolated by a spotlight and accompanied by a solo cantaor, to Caracoles, a sumptuous feast of scarlet batas, the company found the duende in theater and the theater in flamenco. Highlights included TrillA7, a duet exquisitely performed by Jesus Carmona and Lucia Campillo that seamlessly incorporated modern dance vocabulary; a showy but intelligent alegrias by Jesus Carmona, who won First Dance Award at Cante de la Minas in 2012 and brought the house down atthe festival’s opening night; and the closing seguiriya by Karime Amaya, grandnieceof Carmen Amaya, who has danced alongside Farruquito, Pastora Galvan, and Manuela Carrasco. For duende, the show is indebted to cantaor Ismael de la Rosa,* whose ability to plumb the profound depths of cante is matched only by his extraordinary knowledge of the spiritual and aesthetic laws that govern it.
Eva Yerbabuena presented two programs, on consecutive nights. It’s said that she created the first, Ay!, after giving birth to her second daughter; she danced Ay! solo in order to express her feelings as an expectant mother. This was a huge mistake on her part. Yerbabuena cites Pina Bausch—a contemporary devotee of dance theater—as a “decisive influence.” In Bausch’s work, repetition leads to transformation, but it’s clear that Yerbabuena has adopted Bausch’s technique without understanding how it functions. In Ay! repetition led merely to boredom; Yerbabuena’s half-baked choreographic ideas represented experiment as mutation rather than evolution.
The same could not be said for the musical component of Ay!, which was far more successful in incorporating modern influences, especially striking in a cante-violin duet with violinist Vladimir Dimitrienco. Yerbabuena should also be eternally grateful for the contribution of Paco Jarana, her husband, on guitar. Though Jarana is considered one of the best flamenco guitarists in the world, he is content to devote himself to playing for Yerbabuena—as he played for Farruco, Mario Maya, and Matilde Coral.
Nearly all was forgiven with Yerbabuena’s second ballet, Lluvia, presented the following evening. She still indulged in some ill-advised forays into the modern sector, but her attraction to, and need for, new forms became clear in her taranta and closing solea. Yerbabuena’s special gift is her understanding of the communicative reach of footwork. She intuitively grasps how to convey nonverbal meaning through taconeo; the duende she achieves in these moments electrifies her dance as a whole until it burns. In these moments one understands the trick to watching Eva Yerbabuena: Ignore the half-baked stuff because it will yield something wonderful later on. Extraspecial mention must be made of dancers Eduardo Guerrero, who won the coveted Desplante award at the 2013 Cante de Las Minas Festival, and Mercedes de Cordoba, the second-place winner, as well as cantaor Enrique “El Extremeno.”
Israel Galvan’s show La Curva, presented at the Schimmel Center for the Arts, presents the greatest difficulty in terms of Theseus’s Paradox. Harking back to Vicente Escudero’s experimental Cubist flamenco show in 1924, in which the maverick Escudero tapped to the sound of pyramids of chairs falling to the ground (a bit of stage trickery mimicked by Galvan), Galvan assembled fragments of absurdity into a pastiche of sound and visuals that might or might not have had anymeaning at all. Critics speak of his genius at “pushing the boundaries” and “sticking a knife into the narrow notions of flamenco,” but Galvan never wanted to do flamenco in the first place. Watching his concerts is like watching a thirteen-year-old rebel against his parents. While some people delight in this kind of display,others feel it’s something better acted out in the privacy of one’s living room.
The difficulty in terms of Theseus’s Paradox lies in the fact that the entire show is built on compas. While Escudero was accused of having no compas, the same cannot be said of Galvan; he’s suffused with it. He beats it out on the chair he slings over his head, he makes it ring through inches of flour he strews on the stageand tosses over his body, he mirrors it in his accompaniment to Sylvie Courvoisier’s prepared piano. And he does some “real” flamenco—but only a measure or two at a time, never sufficient to fully develop a “real” flamenco idea.
His contempt for the form is clear. What isn’t clear is what lies beyond his contempt. Moreover, it’s rumored that he had cantaora Ines Bacan strip her performance of the living moments of passion that make flamenco great, the way film director Bresson had its actors strip their performances of any kind of emotion. What’s left of flamenco is compas but little else. Is it enough? Not enough to becallled flamenco. Is it enough to be viable modern dance? Not yet, but once Galvan sheds his need to rebel against flamenco, he will give his true gifts freedom to soar.
*New Yorkers are incredibly fortunate that Ismael de la Rosa teaches cante class when he is not on tour. For a schedule of Ismael’s cante classes and Sonia Olla’s flamenco dance class, see RosaFlamenca Cursos NY on Facebook.
|Noche Flamenca at the Joyce Theater, December 3-15, 2013
Noche Flamenca had a particularly strong cast at the Joyce this year. From December 3-15, the nine-member ensemble&Mac247;dancers Soledad Barrio, Juan Ogalla, and Antonio Jimenez "Chupete"; singers Manuel Gago, Mayte Maya, Jose Jimenez "Pepe El Bocadillo," and Carmina Cortes; and guitarists Eugenio Iglesias and Salva de Maria presented "Sombras Sagradas" (Sacred Dreams), a program designed to convey the varied emotions of our private hopes and fears.
The program began with "Amanecer" (Daybreak/Dawn). Appealing variations in staging and lighting set an upbeat air in this jaleo/bulerias, as artistic director Martin Santangelo sampled each of the different elements of flamenco, from solo guitar, to dance accompanied by song, to footwork accompanied by palmas.
"Amanecer" was followed by a guitar solo from Salva de Maria, grandson of cantaor Antonio "La Chaqueta." Salva has worked with such flamenco greats as Miguel Poveda, Chano Lobato, and Israel Galvan. His playing has greatly matured in his six seasons with Noche; like Paco Pena, he is able to make the guitar sound like a full orchestra.
Next came the world premiere of "El Cazador," a duet performed by Soledad Barrio and Juan Ogalla, directed and choreographed by Martin Santangelo and Gabriela Goldin Garcia. It's based on Chekhov's tragic short story "The Huntsman," in which an arrogant hunter accidentally encounters the simple peasant woman he married in a drunken stupor twelve years earlier and subsequently abandoned. The choreography, as well as the execution, accomplished a number of remarkable things; it employed a flamenco convention two letras of alegrias followed by a silencio to convey the universal pathos of unrequited love, utilizing the different sections to reveal the different points of view in the relationship; it employed flamenco movement vocabulary to convey culture-specific modes of interaction between men and women; and it demonstrated Soledad's ability to act.
"El Cazador" opens in a woman's world, with Mayte Maya and Carmina Cortes singing to Barrio as she washes the floor. This simple unity is broken when Ogalla, the huntsman, appears. Barrio's initial joy at seeing him, the tender, simple love infusing her face as she gazes up at him while Cortes and Maya sing a joyful alegrias in the background are truly heartbreaking, especially followed as they are by his brutal, indifferent good-bye in the silencio. If flamenco is theater, "El Cazador" is a perfect example of how it should work.
Maintaining the drama, "Solea por Bulerias" opens with Pepe el Bocadillo hidden behind Chupete, the singer's voice radiating around the dancer's limbs. Then the two reeled away from each other, to dive into a classic gitano-style rendition of this surreptitiously complex flamenco palo. Chupete's tight style seems to contradict spontaneity, but his rawness undoes the contradiction.
Following the solea por bulerias, Juan Ogalla presented a farruca, brilliantly accompanied by guitarist Eugenio Iglesias. The farruca is usually delivered in iconic fashion, the dancer a mere symbol in motion. In Ogalla's farruca, however, you saw the individual behind the dance, the man inhabiting the lines: a farruca for the modern man, which was further refined by the razor-sharp interchange between Ogalla and Iglesias.
Cantaor Manuel Gago next enthralled the audience with "Zambra Caracolera," a theatricalized zambra created by Manolo Caracol in the fifties that exploited the ambience of the caves of Sacramonte, an exoticism the Spanish public loved so much at the time. Gago, whose voice can be heard frequently on Flamenco Radio, sings with such honesty that he maintains authenticity even when performing the most theatrical of forms.
And then Sole danced a siguiriya. In the past, she has appeared otherworldly, searching for something no one else could see. Now she has arrived on earth. She still stands apart, but this time, as a queen, a leader of humankind, a woman who dispenses, rather than seeks, protection. She's mastered the movement vocabulary she's spent years developing, and in that mastery, she's become a master.
The entire company ended the show with "Esta Noche No Es Mi Dia," a tribute to the late Antonio Vizarraga, longtime member of Noche Flamenca. Each company member clutched a red flower in his or her hand, a mirror image of the red rose Vizarraga held on the cover of his CD "Dos Rosas y un Clavel." This sad moment was broken, of course, by a fin de fiesta featuring an adorable patada by Carmina Cortes.
With such a strong cast and continuingly intelligent artistic direction, Noche Flamenca was able to pull off that most difficult of achievements: a theatrical show that conveyed the essence of flamenco. Well done, and thank you, Noche.
|Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia at City Center, March 2013
Under the direction of Mario Maya, the Compania Andaluza de Danza produced a plethora of great flamenco artists, from Israel Galvan to Belen Maya and Isabel Bayon. Founded in 1994, it was reorganized as Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia in 2011 and placed under the artistic direction of Ruben Olmo. The company's netheyst project, Olmo's two-part ballet entitled Metafora, just concluded a four-night run at New York's City Center; it comprised nine dances performed by a superbly trained (and rehearsed) corps de ballet, joined by guest artists Pastora Galvan and Rocio Molina and, of course, Olmo himself. It offered a pleasant, rather than remarkable, night out: nothing to write home about, but nothing to sneeze at, either.
Olmo is a dancer of the bolero school who believes that Spanish dance, bolero, and flamenco are currently in the process of uniting around a backbone of classical ballet and contemporary dance. This eclecticism was more in evidence in the second half of the show, choreographed by Olmo to precorded orchestral music, culminating in Rocio Molina's tepidly received and predictable solo. The first half of the show, entitled "Suite flamenca," was just that: five dances to different flamenco palos, accompanied by two guitarists, a cajon player, and cantaores Cristian Guerrero and Juana Salazar "La Tobala."
There's no question that Pastora Galvan stole the show. Daughter of Jose Galvan, sister to Israel Galvan, her solo was everything from lewd, to funny, to essential flamenco. She also appeared in another highlight of the show: a complete alegrias dedicated to the Sevillian school of dance and Matilde Coral, its champion; entitled "Cantina de Coral," it was choreographed by Matilde's daughter, Rocio Coral. With five women dressed in aqua batas and mantons embroidered in salmon, and Pastora dressed in a salmon bata and manton embroidered with aqua, the dance offered a mesmerizing spectacle of feminine motion.
A taranta pas de deux performed by dancers Patricia Guerrero and Eduardo Leal, both dressed in black against a black backdrop, likewise presented a deeply satisfying execution of line. Watching them dance was like driving by a magnificent landscape: it enchants your eyes, and then it's gone. Other noteworthy numbers included a palo seco cante duet and a bulerias rocked by two men of the corps, both soloists in their own right.
|Noche Flamenca at Joe's Pub 2013
Joe's Pub is a naturally convivial place, with strangers sharing tables, opinions, and conversation. Conviviality doesn't necessarily extend to the stage, though; if it's going to happen there, the performers have to conjure it. At this year's annual Joe's Pub run (January 3-8), Noche Flamenca went way beyond conviviality. This year they became family.
In flamenco terms, family is the top of the heap. It's the place where the best things happen, where real flamenco is born, thrives, and gets transmitted to the next generation. It's the place where everyone knows each other so well that there's nothing to hide and everything to give.
Noche's transformation from company to family is subtle, but it's real. Perhaps moving their home base to New York has made a difference. Perhaps Soledad's ongoing classes on 86th St., where she's building ever more profound relationships with her students, add to it. Whatever the reason, this year's Noche Flamenca was even warmer, more intimate, and more exciting.
Most of the cast members have been with Noche for years: guitarist Eugenio Iglesias, cantaor Manuel Gago, partnered once again with the full-voiced Jose Jimenez, and guest artist Antonio Jimenez, "El Chupete." La Argentinita and Marina Elana, who's made tremendous strides since her debut with the company at the Joyce this past fall, rounded out the cast. Entitled "Noche Quebrada," the program included a captivating alegrias for Soledad and Chupete, a siguiriya with Gago and Iglesias, solea por bulerias by Chupete, and a solea by Soledad, with group numbers opening and closing the show.
Vocally, Manuel Gago's high tenor has deepened, and he permeated his siguiriya with the sobbing cante jondo demands. His reputation grows year by year; in addition to his own discography, he can be heard on Flamenco Radio, Jerez's internet radio station.
Chupete, too, has his own "sound." He's a master of the contracting-expanding force of flamenco, with phrasing that drives toward ultimate completion of compas. Watching him dance is like seeing a wave roaring toward shore, culminating in a crash and the silence that follows.
As for Soledad, sometimes an artist is lucky enough to reach that point when everything comes together, when nothing is missing. A wonderful point artistically, but some go even beyond that: to freedom.
The Shaker song "Simple Gifts" includes the lyric "Tis the gift to be free." In Soledad's case, freedom is leading to the expansion, even the obliteration, of boundaries, opening up new possibilities for creative expression. She is unconstrained in her ongoing exploration of all aspects of flamenco, from gitana to modern. Nothing lies outside her range or consideration.
|Festival Flamenco Gitano presented by World Music Institute
The vision prompting this year's WMI flamenco festival- Festival Flamenco Gitano, representing "the ethnic roots of flamenco in the Gypsy communities in Spain" - might seem redundant to some, but aficionados understand the controversy it implies: There are many who deny the essential "Gypsiness" of flamenco and bristle at the suggestion that Gypsies do flamenco better than everyone else. These naysayers point to African, Arabic, Indian, or Jewish strains in flamenco, claiming external influences imply external origins; they say it's racist to proclaim that Gypsies are the masters of flamenco; or they hold up non-Gypsy flamenco artists like Miguel Poveda to disprove the assertion entirely.
Gypsies are not racially endowed to do flamenco. Spanish gypsies who grow up with flamenco (not all do) do flamenco better than everyone else not because of their genes but because it is their "lived music"- the music they learn in the cradle - as dance anthropologist Rajika Puri puts it. People who grow up in Gypsy homes where flamenco is a regular feature are acculturated to flamenco from the moment they're conceived; their senses are attuned to it in the womb. It's the same the world over: people who are born into a culture and live it on a daily basis are more adept at it-especially its language, kinesics, song, and dance- than people who approach it later in life.
Just because flamenco bears influences of other cultures doesn't make it less Gypsy. As history molds an individual's identity, so it molds a culture's. When the Gypsies moved out of India, they brought with them their own cosmology, language, kinship patterns, social structures, and artforms. On their travels they encountered other groups with different cultural patterns, some of which they assimilated, some of which they didn't. Andalucia presented the Gypsies with a plethora of living cultural artifacts left behind after the 500-year Arab and Jewish residence. Each of these periods-flight; migration; Andalucia-contributed to the evolution of the Gypsy culture in which flamenco reached its highest form.
Naysayers might argue that flamenco as an artform is distinct from Gypsy culture. Again, it's the same the world over: the songs people sing and the dances they dance at weddings, parties, celebrations, or just hanging out acquire personal and cultural associations that become part and parcel of the culture as a whole. That is precisely why Gypsies sound or dance more "authentically"-because they naturally engage in flamenco's full spectrum of meaning, rather than plucking it out of context for the sole purpose of using it as a medium of personal expression.
In this light, the World Music Institute does a tremendous service to the Gypsy people, to flamenco, and to aficionados with this year's Festival Flamenco Gitano. On October 6, "Fiesta Jerez" gathered together artists of the highest caliber from many of the most legendary Gypsy families in flamenco history-Diego del Morao, Juana la del Pipa, Gema Moneo, Enrique el Zambo. The result was flamenco puro with unforgettable Jerez aire: Diego's razor-sharp remates, with palmas precise and perfectly placed. Gema's languid marking and lightning escobillas, imitating the universal rhythm of contraction and expansion. Juana's voice of experience, at once witty and sad. And bulerias that radiated the intimacy of people who laugh at the same jokes. Underlying the technical and artistic achievement of each individual performer, however, was the evidence that as much as flamenco entertains or expresses, it binds its practitioners together.
If "Fiesta Jerez" displayed the social underpinnings of flamenco, "Farruco Family" revealed flamenco's existential bent on October 7. With this concert, El Carpeta, the 14-year-old grandson of El Farruco-the greatest bailaor in recorded history&Mac247;made his New York debut. El Carpeta received his nickname (which means "file folder") from his grandfather, who recognized the boy's ability to immediately remember every dance step after seeing it only once. Speculation mounts: Is El Carpeta in fact the torchbearer he promises to be? If he is, will he accept the role? If not, will his grandfather's contributions to flamenco dim over time? Judging from his performance on October 7, the boy is indeed the link between past and future that will maintain, even augment, the standards set by the great Farruco. Above and beyond exceptional technique and presence, his focus suggested that he also has the gift to place the dance above his ego, which will be a critical factor as his fame grows.
The concert opened with a mother-son tangos duet. Seeing a mother and son dance together is moving in any circumstance; watching La Farruca dance with El Carpeta was beyond thrilling to anyone who cares about the details of how a particular family passes its secrets on to the next generation-how the foot addresses the floor, how to excite moments of stillness. Equally thrilling was La Farruca cutting loose in a bulerias, guasa flying, and El Carpeta dancing bulerias with young cantaor Jose Trivino.
It was in the martinete, however, that the concert reached its peak. Pedro Heredia, "El Granaino," has been singing for the Farrucos for many years. Like his idol, Camaron, El Granaino manipulates flamenco's microtones to resonate in some archetypal space deep inside, deeper even that what we call the soul. Heredia's martinete conjured up the terror of the abyss, a dreadful place where there is no possibility of salvation because God does not exist there.
In the program notes, festival director Nina Menendez refers to an "intimate connection among the artists where dancers and musicians interact freely on the basis of a shared legacy and insatiable hunger to find the spark of duende that transforms the mundane into the sublime." The flamenco community in New York owes much to the World Music Institute and its supporters for bringing us so much duende. Fortunately, the festival continues with Diego el Cigala and Diego del Morao at Town Hall on November 3.
More about Judy:
|Elena Andujar at Drom, September 28, 2012
To be great, a performer requires three qualities beyond raw talent: love of the stage, instinctive intimacy with her material, and chemistry with her fellow musicians. Ironically enough, these count double in a small venue like Drom-an intimate, multitiered restaurant/bar/cafe in the East Village-where singer/dancer Elena Andujar delighted her audience on September 28 under Drom's New York Gypsy Festival banner.
Andujar is the kind of performer who can fill up a big stage and light up a small one. Born in Sevilla, she began studying baile with Matilde Coral at the age of ten, sang backup vocals for Pata Negra's Blues de la Frontera albums when she was 22, partnered Antonio Canales on his tour to Japan two years later, and received an invitation to sing for Joaquin Cortes's company three years after that. She also appears as Al Pacino's dance partner in the film Devil's Advocate (where she's accompanied by the great Tomatito) and has been photographed on a number of occasions by Richard Avedon.
With this kind of performance history, it's obvious that Andujar loves the stage. There are different ways of loving it, though. She doesn't fling her arms in the air, demanding applause, as other singers do. She doesn't preen; she doesn't self-aggrandize. She loves the stage because she's comfortable there. It's home. You can even see it when she's standing upstage and letting her fellow musicians perform.
She's been doing flamenco all her life, which gives her material an instinctive feel. There's no moment of translation, no hesitation or artificiality in her delivery of popular rumbas and cuples, or even a muy jondo solea. Her style is at once personable and authentic, and her generosity as a performer amplifies a voice that is already arresting.
Besides, her natural joy is infectious. Percussionist Jose Moreno and guitarist Peter Kalb "el Periquin" roiled the stage along with Andujar; they were joined later in the set by bassist Richie Goods and singer Curro Cueto, whose good humor inspired Andujar to dance a patada por bulerias that was over way too soon.
More about Judy:
|Noche Flamenca at the Joyce Theater - September 2012
Noche Flamenca's show at the Joyce Theater can be likened to A Tale of Two Cities: It was both the best and the worst of times. In many ways the company has never been better, but on opening night, its best elements were ill used or not used at all.
Leading lady Soledad Barrio is at the peak of her powers, augmenting her animal grace with a lush, feminine virility that brings Ingrid Bergman to mind. She has honed her native physical intelligence into an ethereal brilliance of movement, consciously distilling her dance to its intuitive essence.
Juan Ogalla, who first performed with the company in Madrid in 2000, lent humor and subtlety to his casual fierceness to give a rich, multilayered but always traditionally inspired interpretation of compas.
Cantaor Manuel Gago has been a Noche mainstay for nine seasons, and each year he enriches his clear, high tenor with articulations drawn from deeper and deeper layers of flamenco history. On opening night he was joined by two equally mesmerizing cantaores: smoky-throated Carmina Cortes, his vocal antithesis, and powerhouse Pepe el Bocadillo, of the family that produced Diego el Cigala. The musical chemistry between these singers on opening night cascaded off the stage.
Finally, guitarist Eugenio Iglesias, now in his seventh season with the company, grabbed the audience with the lyrical sonorities that won him gigs accompanying Farruquito and Israel Galvan.
With all this talent, what went wrong?
There were no musical solos at all, neither cante nor guitar. Flamenco companies do best to feature the music as much as the dance, and when a company is blessed with so many outstanding musicians, it's both bad theater and artistic crime to treat them as mere accompanists.
What disappointed most was the fact that we saw so little of Soledad. She did her traditional big solo at the end, of course (a solea this time). However, both of her other dances&Mac247;"La Mansa Lluvia" (alegrias) and "Quebradas" (pas de deux with Alejandro Granados, whose buffoonery was finally brought to a halt by his laser-sharp partner)&Mac247;had her articulating their palos to a place that pointed in new directions, only to have her momentum interrupted by company dancers, including veteran Sol La Argentinita and relative newcomer Juana La Chispa, whose ill-advised appearance took the pieces in entirely unnecessary directions.
Rumor has it that Artistic Director Martin Santangelo is in the process of revising the show. Hopefully he and Soledad will develop "La Mansa Lluvia" and "Quebradas" into the pieces they clearly can become and Martin will give his musicians the stage time they deserve; with these changes, this extended two-week run at the Joyce, from September 18-30, could be the best of times after all.
|Por el Flamenco at the Quad Cinema, May 1st 2011
When foregners talk about flamenco, it's usually from the point of view of "doing" it how to sing with more aire; how to dance correctly but still incorporate personal style; how to find the best teacher to study with. But in his documentary film Por el Flamenco, which will have one showing this Sunday, May 1, at the Quad Cinema, Israeli flamenco aficionado Shem Shemi shares a completely unique flamenco experience: how to deal with the pain flamenco arouses deep in the soul.
Shemi, who is neither singer, dancer, nor guitarist, poured seven years of his life "and all of his money" into this remarkable film. From a personal standpoint, it's fascinating, but as a document of flamenco performance, it's equally amazing, drawn from 127 hours of footage shot on a roadtrip through Jerez, Utrera, Granada, and gypsy villages throughout Andalucia, incorporating cante from complete unknowns to an extraordinary interview and spontaneous performance by Dolores Agujeta, one of the three Mujerez and daughter of the great El Agujetas.
Shemi made the film after following his girlfriend to Andalucia. She was a bailaora from Israel who wanted to further her studies of flamenco; he thought that being in Spain with her would bring them even closer together. But as she was going from class to class, Shemi was spending his nights in cafes and bars with an Israeli guitarist who had chucked everything family, friends, job to live and breathe flamenco. And as Shemi and his newfound friend Yoel spent more and more nights trolling home through empty streets singing bulerias, something happened: Shemi found himself desperately needing to get closer to the roots of flamenco, while she desperately needed to get away. She went back to Israel; Shem and Yoel went on a roadtrip to discover those places where people still live flamenco. It is the one-of-a-kind recordings he made on this roadtrip that make up the bulk of the film.
Shemi has created, in Por el Flamenco, a grito jondo that begins with a solea and ends with a bulerias. But it also leads inadvertently to a question that has nothing to do with flamenco: Is pain universal, or is it culture specific? For instance, can I, as an American, understand the pain of a gitano, or a Haitian, or a Taiwanese? No. But while the question might have nothing to do with flamenco, the answer does: I can't understand the pain of a gitano, but what I can understand, if I choose to, is my own pain that is revealed when I listen to cante jondo. It's not that I understand someone else's pain; it's that my own resonates in response, like a tuning fork, so that while the pain itself might not be universal, the reverberations are. That's what Shemi discovered on his roadtrip and that's the magic that he shares with us in Por el Flamenco.
Comment from editor/webmaster:
Judy, I totally agree with your review. It is one of the best films on flamenco with some of the best examples of flamenco singing in intimate settings that I have seen in recent memory. It is also refreshing to hear a non-flamenco delve deep into his own psyche and history and be able to articlulate why he is moved by this art form. My only hope is that this film reaches a wider audience than the dozen people at the Quad for this one day showing.