by Tony Frankel
While classic and modern dance seem to be continually reinventing themselves, Flamenco remains a bedrock of the moving arts. As Forever Flamenco! at the Ford proved last Saturday, age and body type have nothing to do with the soulful expressiveness inherent in this traditional dance form.
There are many forms of dance and song that emerged as a celebration of life amidst human suffering, but surely Flamenco thrillingly stands out as an example of such an art form. There are moments in the music that clearly reflect Indian, Islamic and Moorish influence. Some Flamenco music styles (palos) have been attributed to Jewish influences, as the Jews were firmly ensconced in Iberia since Roman times. And Andalusia, home to Flamenco, is in the south of the Iberian Peninsula.
“But who wants a history lesson?” asked Artistic Director Maria Bermúdez to the sold out crowd at the Ford Amphitheater. This evening was about celebrating Flamenco and to honor Deborah Lawlor, founder of the Fountain Theatre, where Forever Flamenco! plays once a month. Bermúdez, who has an uncanny ability to gather unparalleled artists, presented a line-up of local, national and international artists for a sexy and captivating evening.
The explosive energy created by dancer Timo Nuñez at the start was, as they say, a hard act to follow. In his shiny red shoes, this tall and elegant artist began casually, but soon offered dynamic footwork that sounded like firecrackers. Then he would do a studly stroll, allowing the dance to breathe, often lifting his shirt to show a bit of skin. Sometimes, this graceful storyteller of dance stared at us as an egret looks for a fish in a lake. Although I don’t remember ever seeing such a hunky egret.
Equally thrilling was Manuel Gutierrez, who opened the second act and emulated a bullfighter. He wasn’t showing off, yet he displayed a crackling tap and pedal pyrotechnics the likes of which confirmed why Flamenco is so compelling. So fiery and passionate was Gutierrez that my companion said afterwards, “That’s it. I’m booking us on the next flight to Seville.”
The ridiculously sexy and sensuous Fanny Ara (think Salma Hayek) offered us a dance which was defiant, seductive, searching and scorching hot – and WAY too short. Mizuho Sato was another classic beauty who I wish had more stage time. All of the guitarists, whether jazzy or classical, were some of the best I have ever heard. Jason McGuire accompanied Ms. Ara with smoldering fast fingerwork that was a brilliant combination of new age work, á la William Ackerman, and traditional Flamenco. I can’t believe all of that music came out of one guitar. Likewise Jose Tanaka, who overlayed his work with a soulful yearning and accessible dissonance. The other guitarists – Antonio Triana, Ben Woods and Adam del Monte – were ably accompanied by the extraordinary percussionist Joey Heredia.
Alejandro Granados was a man drunk with life and passion. Somewhat nattily dressed in red pants, Granados looked like he could be a seaside merchant or a pawn shop owner. But looks and age have nothing to do with the spirit of Flamenco. Audience members actually began to shout as this older gentleman executed a timeless combination of dance artistry and comedic storytelling, giving us more character than an O’Neill drama.
It may be politically incorrect to mention a woman’s age or body type, but whether we are supposed to say Rubenesque, full-figured or otherwise, there were some women on stage whose magnificence proved that anyone can master Flamenco. Lourdes Rodriguez, with spangles around her waist, brought whimsy, silliness and celebration to her dance (she was the one I most wanted to run up on stage to dance with). Linda Vega’s work was so admirable that I was shocked to discover that this was Ms. Vega after knee surgery. Well done! Most impressive was Yaelisa, a middle-aged woman who proved that time cannot quell the fiery gipsy spirit. This seasoned performer with amazing rhythm was humorous, expressive, joyful and reflective, vacillating from a spunky spirit to a trance-like seduction.
The vocalists were no ordinary singers; to the untrained ear, it may seem like they are struggling to hold a note, but that wailing and fluttering is the evolved style of the suffering gipsy, and, at times, sounded eerily like the plaintive yowling of nomadic Native American tribes or the spiritual yearnings of Jewish Sephardic music. Our powerful singers were Jose Cortes, Ana de los Reyes, Pelé de los Reyes and Ismael de la Rosa.
In some of the group numbers, it was difficult to ascertain what was choreographed and what was spontaneous, but all of these impeccable artists worked together seamlessly, occasionally eyeing each other’s body parts (feet, hands, hips, eyes) as they performed with rhythmic intention – no differently than the most passionate lover looks upon a paramour during sex.¿Hace calor aqui? I would have preferred a stronger finish in some of the sets, as dancers just casually strolled away. But come to think of it, I’ve had some lovers do that, too.
The free-for-all in the finale included one of the most captivating moments captured on stage when four young girls executed some flawless dancing in colorful Flamenco flocked skirts. These artists who promise to bring Flamenco into the future were more than adorable – they were breathtaking and inspiring. Then again, so was the entire evening.
photos © Optimage Photography
Tony Frankel writes for Stage and Cinema