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Flash Review 1, 6-28: Asymmetrical Duende
Marin Morphs Flamenco

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- I saw at least two things last night at the Theatre des Abbesses in Montmartre that I'd never seen before at a flamenco concert -- actually, at any dance concert, an important distinction because Andres Marin's feats reach beyond the realm of one dance form. First, Marin opened his "Asimetrias" by jamming on three scuffed steel platforms arrayed on stage right. Considering that he was stamping with boots amplified with steel nails, it almost hurt to watch Marin when you realized he was slamming steel against steel, which can't have been a tonic for his back. Later, in a juncture that it would be a mistake to consider a mere musical interlude to rest the solo dancer, Alexis Lefevre angled his violin like a guitar and strummed it like one -- in the flamenco mode. Informed prior to the concert by a flamenco colleague that Marin, while an excellent dancer, liked to experiment in a modern dance direction, I'd been nervous. Nouvelle flamenco dance sometimes entails recorded popular music and/or ill-considered choreography. But notwithstanding that violin, Daniel Suarez's expanded percussion section, and a medieval chant recording played towards the end of the evening, Marin limits his field of experimentation to the plane of his body, twisted and with new twists, and it works.

It would be a mistake to think of Marin's show, which runs through Friday here, as a 'solo.' He's the only dancer, but he brought with him a battery of musicians: singers Jose Valencia, Londro, and La Tremendita; guitarists Canito, Salvador Gutierrez, and Antonio Rey; violinist Lefevre; and percussionist Suarez. They all look to be under 30, and they're all virtuosi. Indeed "Asimetrias" begins with one of the male singers belting center stage, the other musicians arrayed in a circle behind him upstage. After his song, the dancer enters in a simple black shirt, black pants, and black boots. His task here appears to be to show he's got the traditional flamenco chops -- and then some, as his unrestrained stamping on the three steel platforms proves.

It seems like a typical bravura display of male flamenco dancing prowess, but wait.... Marin is already tweaking. His back is almost hyper-arched, in contrast to his head, which -- preying-bird like, as my stage designer companion pointed out -- juts forward, almost off the axis of the neck. He constantly plays with precariousness, at one point leaning at such an angle that it seems he's carrying all his weight on his calves, his position such that the reverberations can't go above the knees. Asymmetrical means having no balance and it's balance Marin is playing with here.

Having shown us that he knows how to make noise, Marin returns later -- this time in black suede jacket over a bright kelly green shirt -- and proceeds to do everything to avoid making noise. Slow turns are followed by arrested jumps that end in feathery landings. It's flamenco soft-shoe -- Marin will later throw in quick tap-like1-2 heel-toe beats -- even down to his shoes, no longer boots, revealing transparent socks.

Since I've mentioned soft-shoe, I should hasten to add that Marin is anything but cheesy; this is not Antonio el Pipa, making us blanche as he clowns it up. Nor is he Joaquin Cortes. Watching him sweat at one point -- it was as if he could not contain the accumulating tension in his constantly coiling body -- it occurred to me that Marin clearly has the macho appeal to rip his shirt off a la Cortes and play to cheering stadiums filled with mainstream audiences. But Marin's black shirt is buttoned all the way up. He may be experimenting, but his demeanor is formal.

His demeanor towards music is also serious. Perhaps because of where he comes from -- he's the son of dancer Andres Marin and singer Isabel Vargas -- Marin shows his respect for flamenco music not only by surrounding himself with stellar players, but also in his own musicality, and the way the percussion of his feet blends with the other instruments, which is anything but asymmetrical.

If the show has one flaw, it's in Francis Manneart's lighting scheme, clearly not on a par with the dance and music elements. Dark drama is suggested by... dim lighting. At one point late in the show, Marin's commendable decision to stage a lengthy segment for the musicians, placing them in couples (singer and guitarist) around the stage, is sabotaged by cheesy projections (such as water and waves) on an upstage screen. As my companion explained, the lighting didn't add anything to the spectacle.

I'm not the Dance Insider's resident flamenco expert -- I'm only the fourth-string critic in that department, in fact -- but those more versed in today's scene than I tell me there's a debate (if not a battle) simmering (if not boiling) between flamenco purists and flamenco 'innovators' these days. Or perhaps the discussion is more aptly characterized as between the critics and fans of both camps. The upset of the traditionals often falls on choreographers like Maria Pages, particularly when she decides to set flamenco to recordings of, say, the Beatles. But Marin seems to have found a third way, a route that allows him -- and maybe even the art -- to evolve but that still pays respect to its eternal values.

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