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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
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.
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
"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 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
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
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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