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Review, 2-17: Otra, Otra!
At the Flamenco Crossroads with Linares, Poveda, Arcangel, Carrasco
Copyright 2005 Anna Arias Rubio
NEW YORK -- The fifth
annual New York Flamenco Festival opened with a less-than-satisfying
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
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
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
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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