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Flash Review, 2-17: Otra, Otra!
At the Flamenco Crossroads with Linares, Poveda, Arcangel, Carrasco & Carrasco

By Anna Arias Rubio
Copyright 2005 Anna Arias Rubio

NEW YORK -- The fifth annual New York Flamenco Festival opened with a less-than-satisfying first course, but closed Sunday at Carnegie Hall with the sweetest dessert that could possibly have been offered. The only thing that could have improved it would have been for the show to have lasted two nights so we could go back for seconds. Flamenco at the Crossroads presented singers Carmen Linares, Miguel Poveda, Arcangel, Diego Carrasco and dancer Rafaela Carrasco in a program that ranged from the most serious seguiriya to "Hello Dolly" sung in the flamenco rhythm of Bulerias! Yes, there can be laughter in flamenco.

The program begins with Rafaela Carrasco appearing in a black bata de cola (dress with a train), to complete silence. Her sinuous arms twist behind her back and she snaps her fingers, in slow motion marking the rhythm of seguiriyas. Carrasco executes vueltas quebradas (deep bent-back turns) with her head down, looking inside herself. She began dancing at the age of six and her studies have included not only flamenco but also both classical and contemporary dance. This shows in her flexibility and the lyricism of her movement. The young singer Arcangel enters and begins to sing the ancient and mournful cante of seguiriyas. The letra includes phrases such as "God is sending me punishments" and "I am dying." His voice is high-pitched and sweet, piercing the heart. This is serious stuff.

The cante is the base and beginning of flamenco, which began with the human voice accompanied only by hand clapping. The dancer, the guitarists and the singer are not separate elements having a conversation, but separate individuals joining together -- using the structure of a chosen flamenco palo (rhythm) as a conduit -- to express the same thing. I once attended a lecture/demonstration by Noche Flamenca at which an audience member asked dancer Soledad Barrio what one had to do to learn to dance flamenco. Barrio answered: "Understand the cante." The dance is the visual incarnation of the song. Flamenco is an art of individual expression, but it is also a group experience. I am not sure if this is apparent to non-Spanish speaking observers.

As Arcangel sings, Carrasco climbs on top of a chair, crouching. She clutches the train of her dress to her chest and writhes on the chair and the floor. These movements are not traditionally part of the flamenco vocabulary, but because her dance is making the cante visible, she is dancing flamenco.

Miguel Poveda is next on the stage, singing a Cantinas. Cantinas is an older form of the flamenco palo Alegrias, which originates in the port city of Cadiz. The letras of Alegrias traditionally refer to the sea and boats and the beauty of Cadiz. Alegria means "happiness" but sometimes the letra can feel melancholy, suggesting the longing of someone waiting for a loved one to return from the sea. Cadiz has a miles-long wall, la muralla de cadiz, on the edge of the sea, leading up to a huge fortress that once protected the port against invaders. Poveda's clear voice and the letra, which I am familiar with, evokes my walks on this wall and I cry openly.

Diego Carrasco (no relation to Rafaela) also performs an Alegrias, but with an entirely different effect. Carrasco was born into flamenco in the Gypsy quarter, barrio de Santiago, of my favorite city, Jerez de la Frontera. He is considered a flamenco revolutionary, often creating letras from unusual sources, like children's songs and street rhymes. The 50-year-old Carrasco joyfully enters the stage dancing and skipping like a child, giving little outbursts of footwork to accentuate his letra. Rafaela Carrasco enters in a simple blue ruffled dress. In this piece she swings her hips and smiles; everything is light and playful as she shows us Alegrias in a more traditional, earthy, Jerez-style of dance. Smiles break out all over. Shouts of "Ole!" and even "te quiero Diegito" (I love you, Diegito) are heard from the audience.

Carmen Linares enters and makes the mood change again, with a haunting delivery of the traditional letra "La Paloma" (the Dove). Linares is one of the most revered and respected figures of flamenco cante. She appears elegant in a deep orange-red dress and shawl. An audience member shouts "guapa" (beautiful) as she takes her seat, next to guitarist Juan Carlos Romero. The warm space of Carnegie Hall is perfect for Romero's delicate, almost classical touch on the guitar. Linares's voice is deep and raspy. Flamenco is an oral tradition and Linares is not only an impressive singer but a great scholar of letras. Linares's knowledge and her exquisite taste in letras make her a holy figure to all flamencos. Hearing her sing, I feel like I am in church.

The next part of the program is my favorite piece of the evening, Arcangel singing the Fandangos of his native Huelva. One of the verses of the letra goes, "One night my hair was tangled with yours, your body gave me cold and my body gave you heat and like this we slept." I am crying again and would gladly cry all night if Arcangel would just keep singing.

All the performers then come together to perform the song "La Leyenda del Tiempo," made famous by the late flamenco legend Camaron de la Isla. Camaron is to flamenco what Bob Marley is to reggae. He is more than just another cantaor in the history of flamenco; he is the standard. His expressive voice and thrilling quarter-tones spread a taste for pure Gypsy cante to the world. When his album containing Leyenda del Tiempo was first released in the 1980s, every flamenco learned the letra and tried to imitate the amazingly fast handclapping on the song. (The flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia, quoted by Daniel Munoz on Flamenco-World.com, once said, "You only had to listen to Camaron once to know that he was a genious.... While others sang songs with social context, Camaron's cracked voice could evoke on its own the desperation of a people. For a conucopia of information on Camaron, visit this page on Flamenco-World.com.)

The joining together of established stars like Linares and Carrasco with representatives of the new generation like Arcangel and Poveda in a piece made famous by Camaron makes a joyous statement that whether old or new, traditional or ground-breaking, it's all flamenco and we are all connected.

Rafaela Carrasco begins the second half with a Malaguena to the guitar of Jesus Torres and the cante of Miguel Poveda. Carrasco wears a black velvet pants-suit that looks like something she might wear out in the evening. In this piece there is a very defined influence of jazz and contemporary dance in her style. She uses her body in a way that wouldn't work in a dress. Rather than her footwork being defined by the rhythm of the Malaguena, it is choreographed to the virtuosic arpeggios of Torres's guitar. This gives the footwork a tap sensibility that is truly a modern element for flamenco.

Miguel Poveda returns to sing the Argentine tango "Cuesta Abajo." This isn't flamenco but Poveda's passionate and dramatic delivery is. When he raises his hand and sings "I leave pieces of my heart wherever I walk," my daughter and I are both inspired to scream out a hearty "OLE!" to funny looks from some of our neighbors. We don't care -- this is so much fun.

Linares sings her signature palo -- a taranta. Romero's guitar is brilliant. With only minimal statements he perfectly highlights and accentuates her dark tones.

Diego Carrasco returns with "Inquilino del Mundo," an almost rap-sounding Buleria. He enters grinning and spinning around his guitar like a Broadway dancer with a cane. What I love about Carrasco is the way he takes the palo of Bulerias de Jerez forward by bringing it all the way back to the African roots. His rhythm is infectious -- we laugh and yell again. I must mention the percussionist Tino di Geraldo, whose accompaniment here on not just the cajon, but an entire bateria of drums is remarkable.

The singer Diego el Cigala recorded a version of the Spanish bolero "La Bien Paga" with Cuban pianist Bebo Valdez, but Arcangel's rendition of this hit of last year, which comes next, is completely different. He performs this song adapted to the palo of Bulerias. I love El Cigala's recording, but for me, everything is better in Bulerias!

After another religious experience with Linares singing a Solea por Buleria comes the most unusual presentation of the evening -- "Hello Dolly." I am not lying, the entire cast comes out and with a flamenco twist takes turns singing verses of the Broadway standard in Spanish, and it works. Flamenco may not seem like it has a sense of humor, but it does. Flamenco people are some of the funniest people I know. Flamenco is an existentialist art form. If we weren't aware of the absurdity of life, it would be impossible to deal with the constant mention of death in our letras. After a standing ovation and cries of "otra, otra," (one more, one more) the cast returns for a reprieve of "La Leyenda del Tiempo." This turns into a sing-along for many in the audience and the perfect end of the most enjoyable and fun evening I have ever had at a flamenco performance.

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