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Review 2, 2-18: Gypsy Ballads
Pradal & Co. Sing & Dance Lorca
"The gypsy girl is waiting
on the roof for the smuggler, her lover, to come home over the hills
from the sea. She leans over the rail, staring at the hills and the
moon. The green weeds in the cistern throw back a green glow over
everything. Her longing becomes an obsession embracing everything
he stands for; the sea, the moist wind of the lush green world where
there is no thirst and frustration. She is tired of waiting for a
"But who will come,
and from where?"
--Ballad of the Sleepwalker,
from "Romancero Gitano" ("Gypsy Ballads"), Federico Garcia Lorca,
by John Clare.
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider
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PARIS -- There have
certainly been ballets that have successfully mined the expressive
power of flamenco, notably Jose Granero's "Medea," Felipe Sanchez's
"Los Tarantos," and those of the master, Antonio Gades. In recent
years, though, a spate of flamenco companies have floundered in
trying to focus an essentially wild -- by which I mean earthy, not
chaotic -- form on literal story, including those of Christina Hoyas,
Maria Benitez, and Sara
Baras. The power of their imaginations couldn't seem
to match their physical and psychic prowess. But Vicente Pradal,
whose "Romancero Gitano" (or "Gypsy Ballads") is enjoying its premiere
through Saturday at the Theatre de la Ville aux Abbesses, has found
another way: Rather than start with a (limited) dance vocabulary
and use it to forge a story, Pradal has started with a text, Federico
Garcia Lorca's 15-ballad tribute of the same name to the gitan,
and, using musicians and two dancers, found the most effective way
to tell that story, without being bound to either medium. The result
is a suggestive, lyrical tribute not just to what Lorca (as Jean-Marc
Adolphe reminds us in the program notes) called the "profundity"
of the gitan, but that of flamenco as well.
An older man sits astride
a rusted petrol can which he uses simultaneously as a homemade bistro
table for his coffee -- or maybe it's something stronger he's sipping
from that small earthenware cup -- and for beating responses to
a younger man singing a tribute to his daughter. What the young
sailor doesn't know and the girl's father does is that his sweetheart,
the sonambulist of the ballad, tired of waiting for him to return
from the sea has plunged herself into it. I figure this out later
when I find a translation of the poem on the 'Net, but I should
have known it from the demeanor of the father -- a contained and
pained impatience in the face of the blithely singing suitor, marked
by the restraint in his fist hitting the metal.
Later, a younger woman,
shawled in black, descends to the lip of the stage and sets her
lantern down, mourning "Soledad Montoya"; still later, the tale
is told of a gitan who journeys to the town to look at a bull and
is arrested and later killed by Franco's notorious civil guard,
who would murder Lorca too at the beginning of the Spanish Civil
Soledad's story is sung
by Sabrina Romero, who, at just 23, reveals herself here as the
rare Flamenco double-threat -- she sings and dances, investing
her cante with character punctuated by a strong native lisp and
her dance with clarity. For the dancing, Romero, a lustrous beauty,
would benefit from more control; her footwork is a notch less precise
than that of her "Romancero" partner, Manuel Guitierez (another
long-haired buck of a flamenco who could use some lessons in Method
acting). She also lacks the presence of the slightly older, throatier
Maria Luna, whose concentration doesn't flag when she's not center
stage. (Flamenco can seem melodramatic when it turns to narrative
-- or even when it doesn't, come to think of it! -- and an attentive
and focused cast is vital to casting the spell on the audience.)
But with those caveats, what Romero delivers is rare: a confidence
in her dancing that defies her age; the spine rippling from the
sole and foot isolations I'm more used to seeing in older, usually
male performers; and, most of all, a distinctive singing voice --
the pronounced lisp but also a lack of control which serves her
here, adding an unpredictable, natural tremor that sends shivers
into her head -- which, combined with her confident dancing, makes
her the closest thing to a complete flamenco interpeter I've seen
in a while.
By her twin gifts, Romero
also emphasizes that one can't separate flamenco into "dance" and
"song." Presenters need to do a better job of educating their audiences
to this; the New York presenter the World Music Institute bears
some responsibility, I think, for the inexcusably insulting early
departure, recently, of some Flamenco Festival audience members
from City Center while the legenary La Susi was in the middle of
an impassioned Granaina, as
noted by my DI colleague Anna Arias Rubio; the "Romancero
Gitano" is not listed in the dance section of the Theatre de la
Ville's program brochure; I only found out about it because I saw
a kiosk poster. And yet the dance here is more eloquent than any
flamenco (and many other types of dance!) I've recently seen, and
as an unconditional flamenco fan, I appreciated the music, too,
in a nouveau style that included not just guitar and five singers
but accordion, base, and a variety of percussion instruments, the
performance beginning with a solitary gourd.
based on Federico Garcia Lorca's ballad cycle of the same name,
is directed by Vicente Pradal, who also wrote the music. The simple
costumes and serviceable scenery -- large black blocks with red
swirls, defining different levels -- were designed by Isidre Prunes.
The work is performed by singers Maria Luna, Cristo Cortes, Luis
de Almeria, and Vicente Pradal; dancer-singer Sabrina Romero and
dancer Manuel Gutierrez; and Antonio Cortes (guitar), Laurent Paris
(percussion), Jean-Luc Amestoy (accordeon), and Emmanuel Joussemet.
Several theaters co-produced, including the Theatre national de
Toulouse Midi-Pyrenees and the Theatre de la Ville. "Romancero Gitano"
continues at the Theatre de la Ville - Abbesses through Saturday.
For more information, please visit the theater's Web
site. (Look in the music section.)
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