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Flash 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 into flamenco.

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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