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Review Journal, 11-25: Duende
Dancing from the Sole and Soil in Montpellier and Antwerp
"These dark sounds are
the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to
all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real
in art. . . . Thus duende
is a power and not a behavior, it is a struggle and not a concept.
I have heard an old master guitarist say: 'Duende is not in the
throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet.' Which means
it is not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood;
of ancient culture; of creative action."
-- Federica Garcia Lorca
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance insider
-- Tuesday night, in a renovated church just up the road from the
Cite Gely, Etienne Schwarcz, with the aid of the Gypsy Catalan l'association
des Femmes Gitanes, realizes a dream. The City Gely is a gypsy enclave
in this Southern town, and when Schwarcz, an avant-garde composer,
and his team took over La Chapelle two years ago, they weren't content
to just turn the space into a laboratory for performance art. Schwarcz
also wanted it to be a place where the neighbors would feel welcome,
both as audience for events like this past summer's After Shave
salon, and as performers. Tomorrow's Soiree Gitane, "Soy Gitanos_01,"
is advertised as a music event, but if what I witnessed at La Chapelle
this past summer is any hint, there will be dancing aplenty afoot
as well, unadorned and rare.
One late July evening,
I wandered into La Chapelle, a sloping building that seems sunken
into its square -- you descend a short staircase to enter -- to
find a gypsy jam in full flight. The concert, with guitars, synthesizer,
and a singer crying out from a long bench, was fine. But what intrigued
me was the children, several of whom, from ages 3 to maybe 11, were
off to the side, on a small rug of space, dancing to their elders'
playing. This was no mock play dance; each girl watching the other
to make sure it was right, they lifted and dropped their heels,
fingers curling above straightened spines. A three-year-old in whose
expression and form I couldn't see anything off was confidently
corrected by a five-year-old. None of the dancers moved tentatively.
It struck me then that while these dancers may evolve with training,
they are dancers by birth, the duende their heritage.
Whether they consecrated
the ground, I don't know, but this gypsy dance wasn't the only authenticity
to be found at La Chapelle that week. Fresh off Jennifer Lacey's
posing amidst a sea of video monitors at the Montpellier Danse festival
a ways down the road, I was invigorated to find Muriel Pique and
crew holding forth with "It Requires Improvisations" one late weekday
afternoon, as the Sun filtered through La Chapelle's stained glass
windows to form squares of light in front of the performers.
A process ("'It Requires
Improvisations' n'est pas un spectacle," warned the program notes)
for five interpreters -- three dancers and two actors -- "It Requires
Improvisations" was that rare work in which text and dance are integrated
to the detriment of neither. The stunner was Mathilde Gautry --
no bunhead this one, as she held an impossibly contorted position
and delivered a droll monologue with perfect poise and command.
Also a marvel was the generosity of the performers. Drawn from Pique's
"It Requires Performances" (English titles are as romantic to the
French as French titles are to the Americans), this work indeed
did entail improvisation, but the spotlight was shared, each performer
sensing when it was time to commence, to eclipse, or to keep on
while another commenced, to effect an overlap. The music also set
the fantasy mood, with mixmaster Francois Ceccaldi spinning more
versions of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (Ray Charles the winner)
than you probably knew existed.
Later in the evening
is when La Chapelle, with the After Shave salon, really became a
scene. Seating -- ranging from severe backless benches to comfy
chairs -- is deployed in nooks around the triangular space. The
interpreters are likely to commence in any arena, and an audience
member is likely to turn out to be an interpreter, waiting for her
moment to join in. Young Mo Nam must have sat for an hour, jawing
with friends or watching others, before she ditched her jacket,
ambled on to the floor, and turned into a tasmanian devil whirling
around and over the entire terrain. When she'd run herself out,
Compagnie de la Mentira -- Leonardo
Montecchia and Ayelen Parolin -- took the stage with
Montecchia's gritty form of dance-wrassling, which never fails to
engage. What I remember most, though, is the way a squatting lighting
technician, lamp in one hand and colored filters in the other, took
his cues entirely from the performers, watching them intently.
What Schwarcz and company
have created here, perhaps uniquely, is an island of collaborative
invention and community investment in creation. What needs to happen
next, I think, is for the Montpellier Danse Festival, the kingmaker
in town, and a festival which casts its net broadly for dance from
all over the world, to pay more attention to creation happening
in its own backyard. Not just attention, but facilitation is called
for, I think. This past summer the festival included the After Shave
flyer in its press kits. Next summer, perhaps, it can run a bus
from the late-night festival venues to La Chapelle.
"Soy Gitanos_01," featuring
Jose le gitan, Chabo Vila, Reyes Sourisso, Antonio Vila and guest
musicians, commences at 9 p.m. Tuesday at La Chapelle, 170, rue
Joachim du Bellay in the quartier Gely-Figuerolles of Montpellier.
Phone from within France: 04 67 42 08 95. Admission is free.
....Antwerp is an island of many things, a ginger-bread land where
one can dine on frites and moules, wash them down with triple-fermented
beer, and finish up with home-made chocolate. Dancers can afford
to live in castles there, too, our Belgium bureau chief Rosa Mei
has discovered. On a recent trip, Rosa took me and visiting colleagues
Dawn Stoppiello and Mark Coniglio of Troika Ranch to the TapaBar
just down the street for another discovery.
If watching the gypsy
girls dance to their elders' music made me feel I had found the
duende close to one of its sources -- Southern France -- then watching
the Flamenco known as Antonio take command of a 6 x 12 foot stage
and an entire restaurant made me feel I was watching someone for
whom duende was portable. When Antonio sets his foot on a stage,
it is christened with duende.
Sure, Antonio -- dressed
in a simple untucked black shirt, slacks, and boots, under wet black
hair -- has feet with the force of pile-driver and can muster a
jumping attack. And, technically speaking, he is able to isolate.
But really, watching him -- and watching him at a distance of less
than 10 feet, any faking would be detected -- you know he is charged
from foot to head and, particularly, his torso, whether it is moving
or not. He is patient. Just as we watch him wondering what's coming
next, and the guitarist Jose Luis Dominguez and singer Inma look
to him for their next musical cue, so Antonio seems to be looking
to Mother Earth for his next step. You get the feeling he could
do that Flamenco thing where the foot shakes at an increasing tempo,
the pants flare out trembling, and the rest of the body is still,
a study in control. But Antonio's control manifests in different
ways: A hip suddenly and sharply juts out. Or, in the midst of a
flurry of stamping, both feet suddenly tip to the sides, balancing
on the sides of the shoes -- a move reminiscent, my colleagues informed
me, of tap.
This is a performer
who knows how to speak both grandly and intimately. He uses the
full extent of the small stage, traversing every corner and in between.
But the most taut moment, for me, comes when Antonio pulls his shirt
out, clinging to the fabric with the tips of thumb and forefinger,
as if airing himself out.
I think it's his patience,
though, that most indicates Antonio is in another world, that to
which the duende can transport a performer and an audience. If you've
seen a lot of Flamenco, you know that the soloist isn't finished
until he's sat down, his body's released, and, perhaps, he's smiled.
Here there were several 'false' bravura 'finishes,' with only Antonio
-- not the audience, not his colleagues -- knowing when the dance
Antonio's partner, Vanessa,
had improved in focus since the last time I saw her, but she still
needs work before she can hope to match, at least in design, Antonio.
You can catch Antonio
most nights at the TapaBar, 21 Pelgrimstraat, Antwerp. The show
is free, and for $8 you can also get a heaping plate of Spanish
Style mussels, with bread to savor the sauce. The sangria is so-so;
if you drink, stick with the beer. Be advised they charge for water
in Belgium, and after seeing Antonio, you're going to need a lot
of it. Info and reservations, dialing from within Antwerp: 01 234
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