Freedom of Expression: Flamenco Festival Offers Eclectic, Masterful Performances
Of the six separate concerts offered during the ninth annual Flamenco Festival Miami, three featuring individual artists stood out, electrifying the stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center. Each of these powerful dancer/choreographers offered a strikingly different approach to the form, but together they gave audiences a perspective of the wide range of expression that contemporary flamenco encompasses.
Farruquito, who danced on Thursday, March 2, was the most traditional of the group. The Compañía Rocío Molina, which performed on Saturday, March 12, was the most avant garde. And the Compañía Manuel Liñán, that closed the festival, combined the best of both worlds, breathing new life into flamenco’s essence with bold and creative choreography.
The charismatic Farruquito demonstrated with his mastery of improvisation and his dramatic intensity why he is the standard bearer for pure ethnic flamenco in Spain. Surrounding himself with seven powerful musicians, four of them singers, his dance is an expression of his culture, his family, and a whole way of life that is rapidly disappearing. Apart from his phenomenal technique, he is an over-the-top showman. It is thrilling to watch him come out of a turn, fall to his knees and spring up again or finish another series of whipping turns with an off-balance bend to the side, tilting over and catching himself at the last minute.
This dancer practically devours the stage in swift, gliding cross steps and in great lunges that he takes in profile, turning his head to eye the audience, chin down, arched brow lifted suggestively. As he swaggered out in a solo por alegrías, there were shouts of “guapo” (handsome) from the crowd; older women near the stage stood to blow him kisses.
His beautiful, slow arm work during his soleá conveyed the dignity of a gypsy prince, and sinuous twists of the torso created beautiful, unexpected lines that are unique to his style. Conversely, he and voluptuous female dancer Gema Moneo perfomed bulerías that were full of humor and laugh-out-loud fun. Improvisao (Improvised) is meat and potatoes flamenco, cooked up with the finest ingredients by an amazing chef. The audience ate it up.
Compañía Rocío Molina
Rocío Molina’s work could not have presented a more striking contrast. Bosque Ardora (Ardora’s Forest) is revolutionary, an ambitious creation by an artist with an unflinching, expansive vision of Spanish dance’s expressive possibilities. Drawing as it does on such disparate sources as Japanese kabuki, the cinema of Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Pina Bausch-style dance theater, some might consider Bosque Ardora a mash up. I call it a masterpiece.
The piece begins with a film of a river at dawn. A hunt is on. The screen lifts to reveal a lush scene: tall trees in burlap bags surround the set and hang upside down from the rafters. Molina stands center stage in brown garb, a fox mask atop her head. Inclining her neck, we see the mask’s face as she becomes the animal. The crisply articulated gestures of her hands, now paws, are primitive and essential.
Male dancers Eduardo Guerrero and Fernando Jiménez join her, in pastel jackets and neckties. The trio moves together, lifting their legs en attitude as if marking their territory, pawing at the ground like bulls, or with Molina mounting them in a horseback dance for three. Civilization confronts savagery.
But Molina is a shape-shifter, and she doesn’t remain in any guise for long. In one scene, accompanied by a languid trombone duet, she is like a burlesque dancer from a Toulouse Lautrec pastel who may have had one absinthe too many, mocking in her sexuality, a tease who is at one moment slutty, another childlike, hands clasped innocently behind her back.
When the “real” flamenco finally begins, it is flamenco en extremis, stripped down, distilled, exaggerated. To a driving tangos accompaniment, her two male consorts have returned as shirtless, skirted satyrs who lounge and watch and finally join in swishing their pelvises and flexing their biceps in mocking displays of masculine prowess. This comic bacchanal is topped off with a segment of impossibly complex, driving footwork for three.
The evening finishes with a punishing and beautiful soleares by Molina; she grimaces with the effort of pushing her body to the max. After a long and loud ovation, when the lights finally came up my companion turned to me and commented, “That is the best flamenco performance I have ever seen.”
Compañía Manuel Liñán
Whereas Molina’s work takes audiences to a new, surreal world, Manuel Liñán’s “Nómada” takes a more familiar journey through the different rhythms and styles of flamenco’s Andalusian roots. A set of plain black chairs are moved about, creating dramatic groupings on the stage that emphasize different relationships among the performers.
Indeed, relationships are at the heart of Manuel Liñán’s choreography, and primary among these is the interplay between musicians and dancers. Singers and guitarists are fully integrated into theatrical experience, pulled into the action as if they too were dancers. In one solo, a singer grabs Liñán’s foot as he comes out of a turn, then taps out a rhythm on the bottom of his shoe. In another, flanked by the two singers standing in profile, Liñán dances just inches away from each, in an intimate pas de trois of voice and movement.
Liñán’s mastery of choreographic space is brilliant; dancers and musicians slipped in and out of a seemingly endless series of fresh and interesting formations. Even in the most difficult passages, the company’s unison and precision was extraordinary.
The energy built throughout the evening, leading up to a breathtaking finale. Seated center stage, face hidden by an immense pink silk shawl, a dancer springs up to the chords of a upbeat, jubilant caracoles. It is Liñán, clad in a black bata de cola (trailing skirt) with pants and boots underneath as if he had just slipped it on for a rehearsal. The shawl looked like the wings of a freed bird as he stretched out his arms, twirled it around and made it dance in the air around him. He worked the long skirt with authority and abandon, spiraling it around his legs and then, with a flick of the ankle, sending it flying behind him. It felt like a shout of pure liberation, and as he finished the audience went wild. The ovation was long and impassioned, a fitting end to a magnificent festival.