The only constant in life is change, and with change comes progress and appreciation for the past. This was especially true at the Flamenco Gala performance last night at New York City Center, part of this year's Flamenco Festival. The gala was a cross-generational performance, showcasing choreography and dancing by classic Gypsy flamenco legend, Carmen Cortés, contemporary flamenco giant, Rafaela Carrasco, and recent newcomer and flamenco spitfire, Olga Pericet. With three very different and powerful women, this performance was truly a showcase of dance evolution. Prior to the curtain rising, an hour-long flamenco class was offered in the upper lobby of the beautifully redone theater. With about 200 people packed in to learn the basic moves of the technical dance from teacher Nelida Tirado, the simplicity of each movement flew right out the door. We were learning the most basic rhythms and movements, and yes, you can stomp your feet in tempo, but it is the years and years of training that give you the style, grace, and beauty in flamenco dance. With only one hour of a simple introduction to flamenco, my appreciation for the dancer's skill grew exponentially.
It was a full house, and some faces were a bit rosey from the wine and tapas being served in the lobby after the dance class. The lights dimmed, and in complete darkness, without seeing the curtain rising, you could hear synchronized stomping, clapping and snapping begin. Members of the entire company for the evening graced the stage, a single spotlight on each dancer for their rounds of eights to solo. No music, only rhythms started by the solist or the rest of the company. It was magical, and it prepared the audience for a night of breathless moments to come.
Rafaela Carrasco, whose virtuosic choreography in footwork, rhythm and attitude showcased her use of exaggerated costumes, masculine style, and unique musical components. At one point, Rafaela performed a solo in red cowboy boots and a fringed vest with only a cellist beside her, serenading her as she moseyed along. The two of them did a musical dance together with canyon-like peaks and valleys, gradually building up to Carrasco's contemporary style of exceedingly fast footwork. Pieces where she showcased her male dancers were typical testosterone one-uppers, but the dancers were all so capable and incredible, no one could be crowned the alpha male.
Olga Pericet was a body of pure energy and muscle. Her petite frame was at first misleading, but once she hit her positions so powerfully and precisely, the tiny dancer was as large as the flamenco giants that you could see she was emulating. With slow, deep and dramatic low points of her choreography, Pericet incorporated the male vocal singers and their dramatic style of almost-crying. This Moorish style of not-so-subtle vibrato along with the wailing sound of the voice called out to Pericet, where in return she would either be aloof and distant like an apathetic temptress, or react and be red with fire like a scorned lover.
And where did all of this new style of flamenco stem from? Carmen Cortés, celebrated for performing the flamenco puro style, brought the audience back in time. With a focus more on upper-body style, full body attitude, and musical seduction, the intricate footwork seen earlier in the evening was almost of no part of her performance. The stomping and clapping was quite simple, however her captivating stage presence and the way she commanded the room was what put her in a league of her own. A legend was dancing before us, and with such traditional flair, she brought us all to our feet at the end of the night.
THE BARE FEET™ FIVE: 1. Flamenco Festival: The Flamenco Festival USA continues in New York City for the rest of this weekend (March 2nd-5th, 2012) and ends next weekend (March 8th-11th). Be sure to get your tickets now at www.flamencofestival.org 2. The classes continue: The free flamenco classes continue for the next three performances this weekend at New York City Center, all beginning 90-minutes prior to showtime (only open to ticket holders). Get to the theater early to find a good spot - space fills up quickly! 3. I missed these women! No worries, their companies will be performing again on Saturday and Sunday evening, along with Manuela Carrasco, queen of gypsy dance flamenco! For full details, click here! 4. I want to hear more music! For some beautiful music that will move you, check out Absolute Flamenco, and some music that inspired this art form, Arabic Songs from North Africa. 5. Tapas and wine: After the free dance lesson at New York City Center, concession stands with delicious tapas and tasty wines are served, so remember to bring some extra cash with you to the show (it beats having to wait until after the show to feed your Spanish-inspired hunger!)