Leilah Broukhim Flamenco
Goosebumps – my skin was overcome by round after round of goosebumps during the 90-minute flamenco ballet, Dejando Huellas (Traces) by New York’s own Leilah Broukhim Flamenco. Self-described as “a Sephardic woman’s ancestral journey in flamenco dance,” this world-renowned piece was featured at the 92nd Street Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall during the kickoff weekend of New York City’s Flamenco Festival USA. With two more weekends remaining, featuring all things flamenco (traditional and non-traditional) and the caliber set so high by this first show, I can only imagine what lies ahead for the rest of the Spanish festival. A combination of minimal yet powerful storyline through art projection, scene introduction and dance, Leilah Broukhim and her musicians convey a gripping story over time of a woman and of a people that were forced to move from their homeland of Spain to the foreign vastness of ancient Persia. The story is divided into three parts, the first two portraying this migration and the struggle to maintain self-identification. A single, cobalt blue scarf, symbolizing the beliefs of the Jewish heroine throughout her journey, is a common thread through all three parts of the performance. The silk scarf begins as a useful sack to transport Leilah’s relics of worship from her homeland to the land of the unknown. And in Part Two, it reappears as an Islamic woman’s headscarf and seamlessly transforms into a tallit prayer shawl, traditionally worn by a Jewish cantor. This was all very beautiful and extremely moving, but what really propelled the entire performance was Leilah herself and her unstoppable force in dance.
At times, Leilah seemed possessed, overcome by the ancient spirits of the 15th Century Spanish Jews that she was representing. Fits of anger, sadness, beauty, and despair engulfed the dancer as her umbilical connection with the musicians fed her movements. “Leh-lah,” the male vocalist called to her, gently, fueling the fire. Clapping continued with a guitar soloing and Leilah listening to the rhythms and matching her limbs to the music. “Leh-lah,” he echoed a little louder, “Ah-leh!” and Leilah was off. Her impeccable rhythmic sense, not just with her feet but with the use of various styles of clapping, flamboyant snapping, shouting, and knee-slapping, drove each section with highs and lows so high and so low that the uncontrollable swells of excitement and sadness through my body physically manifested itself with the hairs on my arms standing on end and tears welling up in my eyes. I would inch myself closer and closer to the edge of my seat with my head peeking over the heads in front of me as much as I could, just to get a better view of the minute movements that Leilah was creating with her two feet. I wasn’t the only one overcome by incredible emotion; at the end of Part One, Leilah finished with a robust cadenza-like bit that brought uproar from the audience. We were hooked from the start.
The music was the driving force to the story, setting the mood for each scene, each dance, and even each phrase. Ismael Fernandez and Mati Gonzalez, incredible flamenco singers featured in Leilah’s company, both had a tone of sadness and despair in their voices; their style and timbre so similar to the sound of a gypsy’s haunting violin. They too would call out to each other when soloing, begging for more, pulling out the emotion like a bucket from a well. “Ma-ti.” “Eh, Mati!” And it went on, sounds of this music filling the air of the theater with spirits from generations past.
Part three of the piece was of Leilah herself in present day, going back to the land of her ancestors and discovering the flamenco art form. The cobalt blue scarf returned for its final scene, this time as a traditional flamenco scarf, dripping with fringe. The scarf itself had an organic quality to it, and the way that Leilah manipulated the piece of cloth, it looked as though the scarf was dancing with Leilah, and not vice versa. Ending with what could have been considered a more improvisational section of flamenco dance, definitely more modern and inspired by multiple dance forms including tap, street, and pantomime, Leilah Broukhim Flamenco gave an unforgettable and emotionally overwhelming performance.
THE BARE FEET™ FIVE: 1. More on Leilah Broukhim Flamenco: Leilah now resides in Spain, but continues state side with a special flamenco workshop in March. Be sure not to miss this incredible opportunity, March 12th-17th, 2012 in New York City. For more information go to www.leilahbroukhim.com. 2. I Want to Dance Flamenco: The 92nd Street Y offers Flamenco classes every Thursday evening by the renowned JoDe Romano. For other flamenco classes outside of New York City, check out FlamencoUSA.com, FlamencoNow.org, and Flamenco.org! 3. Flamenco Festival continues: The Flamenco Festival continues for the next two weekends in New York City. I am especially excited about four performances next weekend, March 1st-4th, 2012 at The City Center that include flamenco dance lessons prior to each performance! For more information on tickets and shows, go to www.flamencofestival.org. 4. More music: Originally a form of Romani gypsy music, flamenco is an emotional and sensual art form. For more beautiful music check out albums like Absolute Flamenco and Siroco by Flamenco king, Paco de Lucia. 5. Tapas and wine? Want to eat traditional Spanish tapas while sipping wine and watching live flamenco? A handful of NYC restaurants offer this including Nai Tapas Bar, Flor De Sol, and more!