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Flash Review 3, 2-11: Galvanized
Chocolate Ole! and More at the Flamenco Festival

By Anna Arias Rubio
Copyright 2004 Anna Arais Rubio

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NEW YORK -- The fourth annual Flamenco Festival presented by the World Music Institute and Miguel Marin Productions opened at City Center January 29 with an almost overwhelming two-part program featuring first Israel Galvan, Juan de Juan and Rocio Molina, and then Compania Manuela Carrasco, which brought nine singers to the stage, including the 73-year-old legend Chocolate. We were generously given several more pieces than were promised in the program, by both groups of artists.

Israel Galvan, with singers Rafael de Utrera and Pepe de Pura, begins with a set of pieces that pay homage to the percussion and dance maestro Manuel Soler, who passed away last year.

He starts with a dance in the rhythm of Bulerias, entering in a short sleeve casual shirt hanging over black stretch pants and shiny, low-heeled flamenco boots, with a relaxed but alert posture -- not the chesty swagger that we expect from a male flamenco dancer. I was immediately struck by how incredibly light and flexible Galvan is for such a full-bodied man. His movements seem strange at first sight. His shoulders seem to come from his back as he pulls his arms up over his head like a picador about to stab the bull. He throws his arms around to the front and marks the rhythm with his whole body, sometimes seeming to be dancing backwards. In his second solo, "Tona - Milonga," he pushes the envelope even further. One of the guitarists loosens the strings on his guitar, taking it out of tune, and Galvan brings in the music by lifting his left leg in a sort of sideways develope, tapping the toe of one shoe behind him, side to side, almost too many times. I notice giggles among the audience.

Though he is considered a master of "new" flamenco, in his solo work Galvan is not adding anything new or "modern" to flamenco. Every movement he uses is taken strictly from the flamenco vocabulary. He respects the cante(singing) and responds in the traditional places; his compas, or rhythm, is flawless. What he does is deconstruct the usual flamenco desplante (outburst) and reconstruct it in his own surprising way. I find his solos exciting, but from the comments I heard in intermission, and even during the performance, not everyone is ready for his work. Galvan's nontraditional use of the vocabulary prompts one audience member to shout "Eso no es flamenco (That is not flamenco)!"

Galvan definitely reaches beyond flamenco in "Angelus," a duet with the young dancer Rocio Molina, dedicated to the Spanish artist Salvador Dali. They dance with an internalized compas of Seguiriya but to recorded distorted sound, very literally evoking the distorted images of Dali's paintings. There are many visually beautiful moments, but the blank post-modern faces and sometimes robot-like flat hands leave me cold. There are rude comments from the audience during the piece and after, when Molina crosses downstage to turn off the symbolic boom-box.

Twice, between danced pieces, singer Rafael de Utrera pushes the button on the black boom-box and begins to sing to the recorded percussion accompaniment of Manuel Soler. His singing is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. In flamenco, the guitarists and percussionists follow the singer, literally accompanying him or her, so there is a special poignancy to watching de Utrera conforming his cante to the formidable compas of the late master.

At 19 years old, Rocio Molina has already completed her degree with honors at the Royal Conservatory of Dance in Madrid, won several prestigious dance prizes in Spain, and choreographed for and performed worldwide with Compania Maria Pages. In her solo in the rhythm of Solea, she dances with extreme femininity, her hands and arms flutter, and she crosses thestage with multiple vueltas quebradas (broken turns) showing off her supple back. She is one of the young dancers today showing the world that good flamenco is not just all about footwork. But my enjoyment of her solo is disturbed by the City Center ushers seating latecomers during her performance. In fact, the entire first half of the show was interrupted by patrons being seated every few minutes, and one of the cante solos of Rafael de Utrera was disturbed for me by an usher having a conversation with a patron. I find this shocking, and was embarrassed for my fellow Americans, as the first few rows were full of visiting Spanish dignitaries, including the mayor of Seville. This would not happen in Spain.

In contrast to Galvan, Juan de Juan is exactly what we expect from a male flamenco dancer. He is tall and drop-dead handsome, with the long shag haircut favored by Farruquito. His stand-out piece is an Alegrias that begins with an exquisite musical introduction by guitarists Dani de Moron and Miguel Iglesias. Just as I am losing myself in the music, Juan de Juan bursts onto the stage in a white suit with a red polka-dot scarf on his neck and lets loose with a lightning fast opening llamada (call) that takes my breath away. Rafael de Utrera and Enrique "El Extremeno" take turns singing to him, and between letras he wows us with his amazing feet. One of my favorite movements comes when de Juan pulls himself up onto the points of his boots, turns, and hangs there before coming down just when you think it will be too late. In his escobilla (footwork solo) he executes spectacular nerve taps, first with the right toe and then vibrating through his body to the left toe. He is a real showman, bringing to mind his mentor Antonio Canales.

The second half of the gala featured Compania Manuela Carrasco's "Escencias" (Essence) program, with Carrasco giving us the essence of flamenco -- cante. The curtain opens to the sight of some of the true treasures of flamenco singing, three matriarchs of cante in the style of Jerez: Tia Juana la del Pipa, Tia Antonia and Tia Curra. They are joined by young Samara Amador, Rafael de Utrera, Pepe de Pura and Enrique "el Extremeno." The women take turns singing Bulerias and dancing. Bulerias is not a sad palo, but to see these legends together, here in America, moves me to tears. El Extremeno sings out "Where is that Gypsy woman?" and Carrasco appears, and with her body commands each of the male singers to sing for her. 73-year-old legend Chocolate walks across and off the stage singing.

The WMI press release listed La Negra as one of the artists, but I was not aware until checking my program that she was not going to perform. I am thrilled to find one of my personal favorites, La Susi, taking her place. La Susi enters and joined the women, singing her bulerias. She begins with a letra she sings on El Pele's recently released CD "Canto" and continues with more traditional letras.

For me, just this opening of the second half was worth driving from my home in Philly to New York -- in fact I would have walked.

Chocolate returns to sing a Malaguena, finishing with Fandangos Abandalaos.

Manuela Carrasco dances two solos -- her signature solea, with El Extremeno singing to her, and later a Seguiriya sung for her by Chocolate. Seguiriyas is the most serious and deep of all the flamenco rhythms -- it is a powerful and frightening place to be. Chocolate was born into, has experienced and survived enough flamenco to show us that place with his cante. Manuela Carrasco, in an exquisite fuchsia satin dress and bolero jacket, reaches back through the centuries to express it in dance.

Unfortunately, many audience members did not stay long enough to see this. Many people rudely got up and left after Carrasco's first solo of Solea, while La Susi was singing an impassioned Granaina. I realize the gala was much longer than the program suggested, and that it was a cold Thursday night in New York City, but to stand up and walk out while an artist is baring their soul for you is inexcusable.

Compania Andaluza de Danza performed Saturday night as part of the festival, also at City Center. Thankfully, there was nothing controversial about this program!

"Bodas de Sangre (Blood wedding)," based on the play by Federico Garcia Lorca, was choreographed 30 years ago by Antonio Gades. This was a groundbreaking work in the field of Spanish Dance. This work is not flamenco, not "Baile Espanol" (classical Spanish Dance), but a story ballet in the language of modern Spanish Dance. "Bodas de Sangre" was filmed by Carlos Saura in 1981, and every flamenco dancer of my generation treasures their copy.

"Bodas de Sangre" is the story of a young bride who runs away from her wedding party with a lover, with tragic consequences. I believe this choreography is not only a landmark in Spanish Dance, but stands out among story ballets of all genres for its success in portraying Lorca's archetypical Spanish characters. In less than an hour, with almost no props and a bare stage, the only effect being the original lighting design by Antonio Gades, Lorca's tragic story is brought to life. No libretto is necessary, and there is no need to understand the Spanish in the music.

The Compania Andaluza de Danza's performance of this work was glorious. This younger generation of Spanish dancers has had the benefit of all the evolution in dance technique and training that has occurred in the last thirty years and this shows in their ability to execute their roles. I found the dancing in this version to be even better than in the original production.

The entire audience holds its breath for several minutes during the climactic, painfully slow-motion knife fight scene, as the groom and the lover narrowly avoid each other's knife thrusts while the watching bride silently wails, powerless to stop them, until the inevitable death of both men.

The second half of the program was an homage to the legendary Carmen Amaya, entitled "La Leyenda" and choreographed by the company director, Jose Antonio. This is not a life story, but rather an impression of the character and times of this super-artist, who revolutionized the woman's role in flamenco and by sheer force of her stage persona popularized flamenco all over Europe and the Americas.

Two dancers were used to portray Amaya -- Ursula Lopez as Carmen "the real woman" and Elena Algado as Carmen "the immortal woman."

The work was made up of various vignettes taken from Amaya's life and work. In the group numbers the corps wears traditional modest costumes in dark muted colors, and the "two Carmens" appear in recreations of Amaya's most famous and often photographed costumes.

Algado, especially when performing in men's pants as Amaya often did, does an outstanding job in recreating the familiar posture and attitude of this most famous of all flamenco dancers.

En early duet of the two women, "Por Tangos," was my favorite section, the sweetness and innocence suggesting a young Amaya, before she was thrust into the international stage.

The work finishes with a dramatic group dance in the rhythm of Seguiriyas, the two Carmens stalking the stage each in a bata de cola (flamenco dress with a train), one black with an average-length train and one white, with a train of at least 12 feet. The two women snake through the corps de ballet and come together, intertwining the trains of their batas in new and beautiful shapes each time they meet.

The entire show is immensely satisfying. This 23 member repertory company represents, for me, the finest of the new generation Spanish dancers.

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