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Flash Review 2, 7-31: Flamenco at Close Range
Manolete Stalks Jackie Gleason

By Lauren A. Feldman
Cpoyright 2000 Lauren A. Feldman

MIAMI -- I entered a full house at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach on Saturday night to see Manolete with La Rosa Flamenco Theatre, not knowing if the intimacy and intensity of flamenco could be conveyed in such a huge venue. I had only seen live flamenco once before, in a Tablao, a traditional flamenco club in Madrid. Now I was seated in the third row, much to my surprise, so at least I would get a superficial feeling of closeness to the dancers. Unfortunately, as I would soon realize, I could not see their feet, unless I stretched my neck to unfathomable lengths.

The dancers, accompanied by singer Pepe Jimenez and guitarist Pepe Maya (Manolete's nephew), opened with an Alegrias originating in the port city of Cadiz. This was a joyous dance, alternating between trios and solos by the dancers. This was an appropriate opener, accompanied by the guitar and the vocalist's ecstatic shouts of joy.

The Solea, known as the mother of all Flamenco songs and dances, as was explained in the program, was a departure from the happy, lively rhythms and major chords of the first piece. In this duet, choreographed by Manolete, and danced by himself and Ilisa Rosal (founder of La Rosa Flamenco Theatre), the couple attempted to communicate their loneliness and sad yearnings with the alternatingly quiet and intense punctuation of their steps. They followed parallel lines and intersecting diagonals with single turns, perhaps signifying their own confusion in attempting to communicate their mutual feelings of love, yet ultimate despair.

Monolete showed his fortitude and artistry in the Farruca, a traditional male dance from Galicia. Intense and contemplative, Manolete appeared to be walking the tightrope of his mind while he traced the initial steps of this dance. The rhythm of this piece was strong and often hocket-like, with Manolete and his guitarist nephew alternating accents. The audience fiercely applauded this dance of varying tempos and intensities, shouting "Que viva Espana!" Especially expressive were Manolete's shoulder movements and his long, proud strides.

Next I was to witness a melancholy melody accompanied by the most intriguing polyrhythm I have heard. The four women in the opening of Taranto, based on Mineras, or Miners' songs, elicited the pain inspired by the harsh life of the miners in Andalusia. The spatial qualities of this piece were also intriguing; instead of traditional flat or diagonal formations, the dancers wove in and out of each other's paths, only to finally become one mass of beating feat, quivering hips, and blossoming hands. The manner in which these four dancers maintained their own rhythms, while gradually joining the rhythm and melody of the guitar and voice, was spectacular. The program noted a change to a tango rhythm, but I detected an island sound within this dance. As they slowed down, one could hear the performers' feet slide across the floor like a single tear tracing a path down a face. Unexpectedly, the rhythm then gained speed, almost like a heart gone mad. Finally they had some fun, swinging their hips, and then the pace once again cooled down as they struttted off the stage.

The Martinette was a rhythm that started with blacksmiths of Andalusia hitting their hammers on their anvils and singing about the sufferings of life. The Seguiriyas added guitar to the beat of the Martinete, yet retained the "pulsing beat and haunting lament of its roots," according to the program notes. Not only was the rhythm itself awesome in the visceral reactions it caused, but Pepe Jimenez evoked the pain of life, and almost seemed like a Muslim chanter calling the faithful to prayer. (Perhaps this style of singing calls back to the time when the Moors controlled southern Spain.) The blood red background and the red dresses of the first three dancers, coupled with the syncopated rhythm, evoked the beating of the tired heart of a blacksmith. This heart then gained some energy as the dancers gestured towards their hips, perhaps paying homage to the enigma of life. Ilisa Rosal's solo was especially enticing. The repeated "envelope" gesture of her leg, combined with the syncopation of her feet versus the thumping of the body of the guitar kept my eyes glued to Rosal's every expressive movement. Her use of the scarf was saturated with meaning, such as when she, as one burdened, slung the fabric over her back, only to continue her dance of love and toil.

Manolete's signature Alegrias concluded the evening's performance. In this piece, augmented by the use of a plain wooden chair, Manolete stalked the stage like a lion. His accents of rhythm, or pellizco, were feline in nature, but highly masculine in their manifestation. In the piece one could see the partnership between the guitarist, Pepe Maya, and the dancer, as Manolete teased the audience by holding a pose a nanosecond longer than one would expect, and then suddenly releasing his hold into a cascade of tapping while Maya did the same with his guitar. In percussive dance, such as flamenco, perhaps more than in any other dance form, the body becomes an instrument of melody and rhythm, as Manolete proved to his fans tonight.


Lauren A. Feldman is a recent graduate of Columbia University and Barnard College.


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