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Review 1, 8-10: Flamenco Authentico
"Toma! Toma! Toma!" in the Shadows of the Sephardim
By Anna Arias Rubio
Copyright 2004 Anna Arias Rubio
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SEVILLE -- "Flamenco
Traditional" at the Casa de la Memoria de Al-Andaluz in the historic
barrio of Santa Cruz is a nightly performance featuring some of
the best young flamenco artists of Seville, for the comparatively
low price of 11 Euros or 9 Euros for students, or about $11-$13
at current exchange rates. (In Madrid, a tablao show can cost 25-30
Euros or $30-$36.) The 10:30 performance (the evening's second)
on Thursday, July 29 featured singer Javier Rivera, guitarist Pedro
Bernal and two dancers, both national prize winners, Carmen Mesa
and Pastora Galvan.
The barrio of Santa
Cruz was the Jewish quarter of Seville until the late 16th century,
when the Jews were expelled from Spain. The Casa de la Memoria de
Al-Andaluz is an 18th-century palace conserving elements of the
original Sephardic house from the 15th century, and houses a museum
featuring a permanent exhibit, "Memories of Sepharad" and another
exhibit, "Women of Al-Andaluz"; a library; and a center for documentation.
The staff is warm, welcoming and multilingual.
The flamenco performance
is presented in a central patio of the house. The floor is made
of terra-cotta colored tiles, sprinkled with open sections where
small rose bushes peek out. Three walls are tiled with patterned
azulejos in green, brown and cobalt blue; the fourth wall is covered
with blossoming vines hanging down two stories to the floor behind
the small tablao stage. Flowering potted plants decorate the area
behind the stage, while a bowl of floating flowers and two exquisitely
carved metal lamps adorn the front. Black folding chairs are packed
in around three sides of this serene and fragrant space for the
show. No amplification is necessary.
The room holds only
86 spectators, shoulder to shoulder, and was sold out all of the
seven times I attended the shows, catching different combinations
of artists with each performance.
The intimacy of the
space allows for a true appreciation of the delicate picking technique
of guitarist Pedro Bernal for the opening solo of cante "por solea"
(singing in the flamenco palo of solea) delivered by Javier Rivera.
Rivera's clear, powerful, well controlled voice does great justice
to the deeply serious solea. "Valga me Dios, que mala suerte tengo,"
he implores; "Justify for me God, what bad luck I have." For Carmen
Mesa's dance, Bernal began with a lovely falsetta (melody) and Rivera
sang her onto the stage with a beautiful letra of alegrias. Mesa,
petite and slim, wore a simple costume of a deep fuschia top and
scarf, gathered peasant-style, and a straight lime-green skirt with
several rows of small ruffles at the bottom. Smiling, she danced
a very traditional, but satisfying alegria, punctuated with gritos
(yells) to the musicians of "Vengo!" and "Vamanos!" Mesa has light
but precise feet and elegant long fingers; only in the silencio
section of her piece did she stray from the expected traditional
technique into a more modern, angular use of the arms and body.
She completed her alegrias with a coquettish buleria. Pedro Bernal
gave a guitar solo in the rhythm of bulerias accompanied by the
palmas (hand-clapping) of singer Rivera. His piece contained some
original-sounding themes and some recognizable echoes of themes
by Paco de Lucia and Moraito. Bernal's clean technique and the infectious
energy between him and Rivera made the piece thoroughly enjoyable.
Next to the tiny stage
was Pastora Galvan. Galvan is the daughter of Maestro Jose Galvan
and the brother of ground-breaker Israel Galvan, and at 23 years old is already breaking
some ground of her own. Galvan is short, but extremely curvy and
voluptuous in a loud orange and brown print dress with orange flecos
(fringe) on her sleeves and on the ruffle of her skirt. She has
a very distinct individual style combining fast, modern arm movements
with a super-flamenca use of her weight. While marking in her solea
por bulerias she undulates her body and sways her generous hips
in a feminine natural style that makes you yell, "Toma!" This contrasts
in an exciting way with the clear sharp precision of her footwork.
Galvan approaches the rhythm with a unique musicality; she is jazzy
and funky. Very often you see flamenco dancers gather up their skirts
and attack the floor, but this isn't the case with Galvan; she dishes
out speed and amazing counter-rhythms without ever compromising
the rest of her body movements. Solea por bulerias traditionaly
culminates in the rhythm of bulerias, but rather than offering just
the expected playful desplantes (outburts), Galvan sensually marked
the rhythm slowly and with control, allowing the tension in the
music to build and build. When she finally released the tension
with a long run of sound it was more like a timbale solo than the
usual tica-tica-tica that most flamenco dancers would produce at
this speed. She completed this long run of percussion with a dead
stop, accompanied by the collective gasp of the audience.
Pastora Galvan is a
name to watch for.
I have only one suggestion
for the staff of the Casa de la Memoria. I feel it would be appropriate
to contextualize the presentation of flamenco shows in this environment,
to mention the Sephardic and Moorish roots of flamenco. I feel this
would make the presentations have even more meaning for the newcomers
to flamenco, and maybe spark their curiosity to investigate deeper
The presentations at
the Casa de la Memoria continue throughout the year.
Anna Arias Rubio is a flamenco dancer and teacher, and the Dance
Insider's chief flamenco critic.
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