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Flash Review 1, 5-8: Ole! Ole!
Amaya and Co. Set the Heart Ticking

By Selene Carter
Copyright 2000 Selene Carter

CHICAGO -- OMAYRA AMAYA, JOAQUIN ENCIANIS, dancers; JESUS MONTOYA, singer and CHUSCALES, guitartist. OLE! OLE! the crowd cheered Sunday at the Hothouse, the "Center for International Performance and Exhibition," primarily a music venue, with a swanky, cabaret, '40s nightclub feel. I am utterly naive when it comes to Flamenco. I do know, after this performance, that I was in the presence of greatness. Run don't walk to see any of these performers if they come to a town near you. You will witness the perfect marriage of technique and style, of form and freedom. The union where virtuosity takes flight to a state of pure expression and flow that is so powerful that silence reverberates and stillness undulates with a deep, erotic, creative power.

Every chair in the joint was taken. Little girls in black, fringed shawls preened among their families, groups seated at tables burst out with clapping and stomping. It was clear that the Flamenco fans of Chicago were here in full force to pay homage to these great artists. I struggled to find a place to sit where I knew I would see the dancers' feet. After I admitted my ignorance to my table-mates, the stranger at my left explained that Flamenco was what made his heart tick. It was the essence of life and if I didn't feel it's power I was dead.

Chuscales began to play his guitar. Bearing a resemblance to Gabriel Bryne, he embodied a reverence and deep listening as he played. He was joined by Montoya, who brought to mind the lucky Buddhas I see festooned with coins and incense at Asian restaurants, or Ganesh the Hindu elephant deity. Large and jolly, full of spark and warmth. As they played I mused on the one nugget of information the heart-ticking stranger had told me. That this was the art of the Gypsies who had originated in India. How like Ravi Shankar Montoya's singing sometimes was. The rhythms flowed and eddied forward, so complex and beautiful. Like sailing, like riding waves of energy that exploded, but never into chaos. Surging and generating more power with delicacy and fine control.

Omayra Amaya is to Flamenco what Suzanne Farrell is to ballerinas, what Nancy Stark Smith is to Contact Improvisers. The daughter of dancers, Olga and Curro Amaya, members of the legendary Carmen Amaya's dance company, she was obviously pulsing to these rhythms in the womb. She has also trained in modern dance technique, performing with Anna Sokolow and Jennifer Scanlong among others. She teaches at the University of New Mexico and is a founder of the National Conservatory of Flamenco Arts in Albaquerque, NM. As she danced I saw ferocity, defiance, pride, a goading combativeness. Her hands, like a Bharata Natyam dancer, telling of fires, of blossoming, fragrant trees, of unseen roots that cannot be destroyed. In this dance a woman can be both erotic and strong, aggressive and direct. If I had a young daughter I would want her to see Amaya dance. As she danced she seemed to generate more energy to dance fiercer, fuller and faster. But always, the dignified control of every nuance. She is poly-rythmic, poly-qualitative, poly-dimensional.

Joaquin Encinias has been called one of the premiere Flamenco dancers in the United States. With the stature of a bull and the lightness of a dove he moves like no one I've ever seen. In exquisite contrast to Amaya he was able to show us tender, petulant sensuality. This is the most non-sexist sexy dancing I've ever seen! Yet oh so dignified and blazing with integrity. How can he in one instant have the step that shakes my body in my seat, louder then a thunder clap, and in the next mili-second, the most silent step? Encinias's sense of space was uncanny, every part of him, eyes, hands, feet flashing, arching, slicing in a myriad of directions simultaneously. Most exquisite was how he would jump into the air, and mid-air syncopate the rhythm with what seemed like twenty movements before he touched the ground again.

I cannot end without describing the end. The dancers encouraged the musicians to dance. A loving gesture, full of appreciation and a shared bravado. Both guitarist and vocalist where equally expressive, exquisite dancers. Their facility as dancers underscored the inter-dependence that the trio of guitarist, dancer and vocalist have together.

Is Flamenco an improvisational form? I gathered that the forms are strict, but how they are layered, expressed and unfolded in relation to the trinity of vocalist, guitarist and dancer is where the artistry comes in. Is Flamenco a 'western' as opposed to 'non-western' (I hate those definitions) form? In it's practice and performance it brought me to an ecstatic state of eternity, at once telling me endless, intricate stories of the human heart and bringing me completely to this passionate, full, embodied moment. Alive, my heart sailing and ticking.

(Editor's note: For more on Carmen Amaya, see Flash Review 1, 1-15: Ballet Noir.)

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