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Photo: Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater
Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, based in Chicago, is among a growing number of American flamenco companies.

I had no idea that there is a vibrant branch of flamenco dance culture evolving right here in the United States, but a recent article in Dance Magazine set me straight. Alice Blumenfeld begins by noting a Dance Magazine interview with Cuban Flamenco star Irene Rodriguez.

The interview, she says, ‘mentions only a few of the many flamenco companies in the U.S. and claims a lack of innovation in American flamenco. [It] brings to the forefront a deeper problem surrounding flamenco in the United States.

“Why are so many flamenco dance companies and dancers in the U.S. — especially those pushing the form forward — overlooked and undervalued? Why do we constantly have to defend our work?

“When I toured the U.S. with Flamenco Vivo, my first two tours I wore the iconic red bata de cola. I’d run onstage and hit a pose in the middle of the first piece — and almost without fail, the audience would cheer. I’d hold my pose, chest and chin lifted, castanets drawn and ready. But in my head, I was thinking: Why are they clapping? I’ve done nothing worthy of applause — entering the stage and making a pose is not such a special feat. Presumably, it was the appearance of the red dress and the dramatic change in lighting.

“Why is the audience trained to clap at that moment? I could start with Franco, who used the image of the flamenco dancer to attract tourists to Spain. The woman in the red dress is even an emoji. …

“Pursuing flamenco outside the norms is not so easy. … Sometimes, flamenco is sidelined because it isn’t fully understood. (One MFA program called and asked me why I wanted an MFA, since I was a flamenco dancer. Only upon including in my answer that I also study contemporary dance and had a foundation in ballet did it seem to make sense to them.)

“I am ever-grateful to my experiences dancing with several of companies Rodriguez admires … But only as I started to branch out did I realize there are many people breaking boundaries in flamenco in the U.S. in incredible ways that could only be possible in the melting pot that is America. … Many cities in the U.S. champion vibrant flamenco scenes with outstanding dancers and musicians, and some, like Pittsburgh and Austin, have burgeoning scenes. Building a flamenco community takes decades of tireless work, and many of us creating today are standing on the shoulders of often unrecognized artists.

“As foreigners, we have to prove five times over we know the rules before we can break them. … I want aspiring flamenco dancers to know it’s okay to not wear a red dress and polka dots, to branch out, and to explore one’s own style, story and self through flamenco. And I want audiences to know flamenco is more than passionate and fiery footwork. …

“I want people to understand there is an ever-expanding horizon in flamenco, that flamenco has a specific (and fascinating!) political and cultural history. … Flamenco can be for anyone willing to put in the time to study it — the technique, structures, history, music — and then deepen that knowledge with their own interpretation.”

More here.

Photo: Angelica Escoto/ Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana
Alice Blumenfeld performing with Flamenco Vivo.

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What a weekend for entertainment! On one day, we saw the musical The Wild Party (LaChiusa version) at  Moonbox Productions in Boston. (Very good.) On another, we attended a flamenco concert in a church.

The flamenco headliner, guitarist Juanito Pascual, was joined by flamenco percussionist and singer José Moreno and singer and dancer Bárbara Martinez. Such exuberant and mournful fun! It reminded us of fado concerts we’ve attended, although that happy-sad tradition is Portuguese and flamenco is Spanish.

The music included pieces that go back centuries plus Pascual’s own compositions, which are a fascinating blend of old and new. Challenging at times, but pretty intriguing. One was dedicated to the person back home in Minnesota “who persuaded my mother to let me take guitar lessons.”

An article in the Concord Journal notes that Pascual,  who is just beginning a 15-city tour to promote his latest CD, “skillfully weaves such influences as Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Bach and many others into his original compositions.” The Journal also quotes Boston Globe critic Steve Morse, who admires how Pascual “combines vivid colors, rich imagination and a yearning, never satisfied mastery of his art.”

Even in pieces without Moreno’s percussion support, Pascual’s virtuoso performance sounded like he was simultaneously playing two guitars and a set of bongos (flamenco involves slapping the wood as well has playing the strings). Very dramatic.

More at the Concord Journal, here. And you can hear samples of the music at all three artists’ websites.

Photo: www.juanitopascual.com

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