Developing and expanding over several centuries, Flamenco song, music and dance began with the Gypsies of Andalucia, the flamencos, and first mentioned in literature in 1774. It has since spread throughout North Africa, Southern Europe, and the Near and Far East, becoming popular as café entertainment in the 19th century. Flamenco is a very proud art form fueled with passion, sensuality and culture. The Fountain Theatre, under the guidance of Producing Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, has brought together a truly talented group of Flamenco artists to present Forever Flamenco. The company definitely fired up, excited and entertained the large audience at the newly renovated John Anson Ford Amphitheatre.
Bulerias sin Baile featured cantaors (singers) Jesus Montoya and Antonio de Jerez. Bulerias is a popular Andalusian song and dance, and according to the online Spanish dictionary, Bulerias sin Baile translates to song without dance. The beautiful voices of Montoya and Jerez were accompanied by guitarristas Kai Narezo and José Tanaka, and percusionista Joey Heredia.
Jesus Muñoz’s solo Alegrias (joy or happiness) consisted largely of macho-eques poses and walks that were occasionally accented with rapid fire footwork, stomps and expressive gestures. Though beautifully executed, Alegrias was not one of the stronger works of the evening and definitely not a work to wake up the crowd.
The stage heated up, however, with the entrance of Daniela Zermeño. Her stage presence was felt the moment she stepped into the shadows just offstage. And, when she entered the performing area, that presence filled the entire venue. In Tientos (tact, care or caution) Zermeño was sensual, passionate and mysterious, while her technique was flawless. Through Zermeño’s physical movements, I would say that in this case Tientos might mean take “care” of this temptress; she might be more woman than you could handle. Many of the solos throughout the evening felt long, but in this reviewer’s opinion, we could have sat through even more from Zermeño’s dancing.
Next came a wonderful Percussion Solo by Joey Heredia accented with intricate clapping rhythms from other members of the company. It was amazing to listen to how these highly skilled artists wove their rhythms in and out of each other’s music.
Speed, high stepping and bravado defines the solo Soleá por Buleria (a type of Flamenco song and dance with rapid rhymes in 12 beats) performed by Oscar Valero. Dressed in a bright reddish orange suit with a flora short. Valero soon shed his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to elicit olés and bravos from the audience with his speed, jumps, high knee lifts and total clarity of sound.
Mizuho Sato brought great seductive drama to the stage with her performance of Taranto (dazed; bewildered). Sato’s dancing was very passionate and grounded. More than anyone else on the program, she changed levels by bending over, deepening her plie while bewitching us with her enticing glances and her physical beauty. Sato is an amazing performer who has mastered her technique which frees her dancing and allows her acting abilities to be fully expressed. She indeed dazed us with her performance in Taranto.
The second half of the program opened with an incredible Guitar Solo by José Tanaka. It was delivered with quiet passion and technical brilliance. Tanaka’s music came through his fingers, making the guitar seem alive as he wove his music in and around the clapping rhythms of his colleagues. It was indeed the highlight of the musical offerings presented on this program.
The only dance that included more than one person was listed simply as Full Company. The four women in the company each got a chance to show off their individual styles with brief solos. The dance had the feel that one gets from watching a Jazz jam session or “dueling guitars”; two dancers circling each other like rivals before one of them breaks into her solo. These amazing women were Reyes Barrios, Melissa Cruz, Mizuho Sato and Daniela Zermeño. The remaining company members spurred the women on with music, song, rhythmic clapping and vocal encouragement.
Ricardo Chavez is a tall, handsome and elegant man. His style of Flamenco in Farruca was to be very quiet with his upper body while his feet moved at lighting speed. His posturing was less macho-like and more that of a very proud and self-assured man. Chavez did less posturing and delighted us with his dancing.
In Cantiñas, Reyes Barrios used her upper back, flashing hands and intricate leg work to bring us yet another style of Flamenco. Her solo was hearty and seductive. Again, amazing speed going on with her feet, Barrios combined slow upper torso movements and expressive hand gestures with subtle head movements. Like Sato, Barrios’ dancing is firmly rooted in the ground.
The exact adjective evades me to describe Melissa Cruz’s performance of Soleá por Buleria. Sometimes wild, sometimes quiet with sharp accented head movement, Cruz danced with a total lack of fear or inhibition. As she covered every inch of space on the Ford stage, her hair came loose as a barrette flew across the stage. Never losing a beat or coming out of character, Cruz’s performance truly brought down the house.
The last solo on the program was Soleá, performed by Artistic Director and dancer Jesus Muñoz. Soleá opened with Muñoz posing dramatically and strutting slowly around the stage for what seemed like an eternity. This atmosphere was shattered, however, when Muñoz proved that he could move as fast and forcefully as any of the other dancers. He ate up the space while his feet fired off clear and uncountable rhythms. Other than being too long, this was a wonderful program closer.
Los Angeles is rich with Spanish and Hispanic culture, and it was gratifying to see that the audience that came out to see this spirited company was very diverse. There was definitely a rainbow of human faces in the crowd.