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Flash Review, 5-5: Chemical Reactions
Sparks & Fizzles at Flamenco Festival: Death of a Flamenco Maestro: Jose Granero, RIP

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- If flamenco has an impresario, his name is surely Miguel Marin. Let me revise that: If Dance has an impresario worth emulating in 2006, his name is Miguel Marin. The Energizer Bunny of producers, Marin directs the truly all-star Flamenco Festival, which draws huge audiences in three of the four greatest cities in the world: London, New York, and Paris, the latest edition of which opened Wednesday with the National Ballet of Spain at the Theater National de Chaillot, where it continues through May 13 with top-tier artists like Eva Yerbabuena, Mayte Martin and Belen Maya, Ines Bacan and Esperanza Fernandez. Marin's greatest gift is probably that he lacks the greatest fault which sometimes plagues those of us in the dance infrastructure: He doesn't appear to carry obscure grudges which can distort the curatorial eye. His only Achilles heel is a streak of commercialism which sometimes numbs his taste buds; thus an event which offers the revered Maya also proposes Antonio el Pipa, Las Vegas's gift to Jerez.

If there's a company that has transformative weight in flamenco -- meaning it can transform the art of narrative dance -- it's probably National Ballet of Spain. Scarified by Aida Gomez -- the frothy former directrice who famously fired Lola Greco, NBS's greatest dancer ever -- the company appears to have stabilized with the return of former director Jose Antonio. In Wednesday's opening, I didn't sense anyone dancing with fear that if they slipped up they might get slapped. Yet it also lacks a clear singular personality with the stature, or even half the stature, of Greco. With one potential exception.

After "Grito," a physically torrid (in the female corps) but narratively and choreographically tepid curtain-raiser by another legend, Antonio Canales, whose mundanity sunk in after you got over the initially stunning affect off the syncopated stamping, Antonio himself took the stage for "Golpes da la Vida," which he choreographed with Rafael Campallo, sitting in a simple wooden chair, an arm and his leaning torso beseeching someone offstage left. That person turned out to be Pol Vaquero, a.k.a. the future of male flamenco.

It's rare to find a male flamenco star whose talent isn't accompanied by an equal quotient of ego. Vaquero has several unique talents which would seem to merit bragging rights, and yet he displays them not as triumphs, but as natural. These include a minute mastery of his feet, a velvety coursing of energy through his legs, and, incredibly in flamenco, the understanding that acting an emotion, especially a tragic one, really means trying to suppress it -- as a normal person might do -- rather than (outwardly) giving into it.

The story here, based on an 'idea' from Antonio, is very basic -- a rupture between a father and son. The father yearns for the son but once the son shows up, all he can do is upbraid him as a disappointment, including by forcefully manipulating him over the stage but also 'verbally' -- in the language at which no one beats National Ballet of Spain, that of the feet. I don't just mean that he stomps around; no, this language, which National Ballet of Spain has revealed for years, is full of nuances between the extremities. What this kind of communication does is remove the filter of words and of the brain, the gloss and finesse of editing; emotions go straight from the gut to the feet and into the Earth. It's one of the reasons dance exists -- not just so the artists can express themselves this way, but so that we too can, vicariously. I guess this is why we can forgive that the story here is so elementary -- it is also elemental. It resonates with us -- the tempestuous, supportive/dominant relationship a father has with his son I mean -- and resolves in a kind of catharsis.

From the son's perspective, such a confrontation also involves emerging from the father's control and -- often exactly when the father is raging with his disappointment, a crushing moment -- recovering from the father's disowning him to own himself. As you might expect, Vaquero conveys this here by discovering his body, almost nerve-to-nerve. This is not a simple dance of frustrated rage, a flamenco temper-tantrum. Anger is only the spark, which promotes the son into discovering his own power, and that he can function as an autonomous unit.

It's a discovery that's lethal to his relationship with his father. I should mention that Vaquero's extended solo is danced in the presence of, and often addressing, the empty and spotlit chair, still heavy with his father's presence. When dad returns, the two alternate between hidden moments of wanting to embrace and a pride that prevents this, until the son finally exits (along and into a ray of light, oy), the father again beseeching his back with a beseeching arm the son doesn't see (and that we barely do either, as the lights are dimmed prematurely).

The program concluded with Antonio's "La Leyenda," which I was unable to see through to its finish for a couple of reasons, two of which are relevant here: 1. The choreography didn't grab me. 2. More important, live music from a competent combo alternated, inexplicably to me, with a taped score, whose volume sometimes overwhelmed the live percussion of the dancers' feet. I am not sure what the reasons are for this disturbing trend; flamenco, more than any other form, is really a dialogue between the music and dance. So pairing live dancers to canned music cuts out half the chemistry and eliminates any chance of a chemical reaction in a form that is constructed on it. It's kind of like someone having a conversation with a taped recording. Live musicians would never try to accompany video-taped dancers; I'm not sure why the National Ballet of Spain and Miguel Marin think it's acceptable to open a marquee flamenco festival with a program one of whose pieces includes dead music.

Death of a Flamenco Maestro

The reason I know flamenco is a nuanced language is Jose Granero. When MIguel Marin introduced me to Lola Greco right after she'd performed the lead in Granero's "Medea" one night with the National Ballet of Spain in New York several years ago, the first thing Greco said, from a ravaged visage, was "I can't talk now." Another performance of the role left her hands bleeding from pounding the stage. If the force of the movement came from the dancer, it was Granero who provided the language, helping make of flamenco one of the most potently expressive narrative languages in dance. Greco and other flamenco artists who had the opportunity to work with Granero are no doubt devastated by today's news of Granero's passing, reported on abc.es, at the age of 70. "He was the first to believe in me," Antonio Canales, one of the many mourning Granero's passing, told ABC.es.


Dance Insider Flamenco editor Anna Arias Rubio contributed the news tip on the death of Jose Granero for this article.


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