By Debra Levine
One of L.A.’s most accomplished arts impresarios will float in flamenco heaven this Saturday night when her helming of her 20-year-running series “Forever Flamenco!” will be honored in an all-star performance at the Ford Theatre.
Deborah Lawlor, southern California’s key importer of the gypsy art form, will take a rare turn as spectator, and not producer, when her favorite flamenco artists — dancers and musicians — hot up the outdoor amphitheater’s nippy night air.
Concurrent to this tribute, a moving and well-crafted flamenco-themed play, “Heart Song,” is enjoying one-month run at The Fountain Theatre, the wonderfully funky East Hollywood house where Lawlor launched “Forever Flamenco!”
The recognition must be gratifying for Lawlor, whose dance journey began during her Riverside childhood. The self-described “flamenco nut” was raised in a dance-friendly family (her aunt Olga Hammond was an early modern dancer). Her arts-loving mom organized frequent performance forays into L.A.
One memorable outing was to see Jose Greco at the Wilshire Ebell Theater.
“I was a little bit bored by him,” Lawlor admits. “He stood in one place and did footwork. The intimate atmosphere was lost in the big theater with shows like his.”
Years later, Lawlor, sophisticated after pursuit of a flamenco education, explains, “There’s the virtuosity and there’s the meaning. You can get bored by pure virtuosity. I learned that flamenco is the play of rhythm and contre-tiempos, the palmas [hand claps]. There is a whole world of rhythmic stuff going on. If you are just watching a dancer stomp his feet, you can be bored. The more musical background you have the more you can enjoy it.”
A multilingual world traveler who has lived and studied abroad, journeying between India, Australia, Egypt and France, Lawlor notes: “Flamenco is a kind of inward expression; to project it out is a different feel. ‘Cause the songs themselves can be very intimate, some very dark, about death, but you have to kind of go with the lighter aspects of flamenco, the joyous songs as well as the tragic ones.
“Of course, I love it a lot. The more you get into it, the more it opens up to you.”
Saturday night Lawlor will be surrounded by the international band of gypsies she has cultivated and promoted, a group of singers and dancers cherry-picked from Europe and from the flamenco communities of San Francisco and Phoenix.
One of her prime protégées, the acclaimed dancer Maria Bermudez, is producing the show in honor of Lawlor’s huge achievement.
“Forever Flamenco! was born of Deborah’s love and total immersion into flamenco,” says Bermudez. “Young dancers, up-and-coming dancers, seasoned professionals and international dancers – all of us have all come through Forever Flamenco! at the Fountain. I took my first baby steps there.”
Bermudez, considered to be one of the foremost international flamenco artists in the world today, resides in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, the “birthplace” of flamenco. She was the model for one of the lead characters of “Heart Song,” a role she has played for the past few weeks.
“Forever Flamenco!” at the Ford dancers will include Roberto Amaral, Fanny Ara, Maria Bermudez, Alejandro Granados (Spain), Manuel Gutierrrez, Timo Nuñez, Linda Vega and Yaelisa; singers José Cortes, Ana de los Reyes (Spain) and Ismael de la Rosa (from Spain); singer/composer Pele de los Reyes (Spain) of the Grammy®-nominated group Navajita Platea; guitarists Adam del Monte, Jason McGuire, José Tanaka, Antonio Triana; and percussionist Joey Heredia.
“Heart Song is a joy. It’s all woman cast, and the crew is all women. It has the aspect of flamenco but it also a mother-daughter drama about a Jewish woman who didn’t realize her mother had been in the [concentration] camp; she never spoke about her childhood. Anybody can relate to that.”
The sure-to-be-sizzling Ford flamenco program and the well staged and performed “Heart Song” are both recommended. We especially love the Ford’s historic Cahuenga Pass setting, a stellar venue for a pre-performance urban picnics.
Debra Levine writes for Arts Meme.