DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition
"Look at How Gypsy I am!"
If you wanted an evening of quality entertainment this Saturday, you could have sauntered across to the modest Jack Guidone Theater at Friendship Heights, DC. The audience gathered there was in an excited expectant mood and the opening number to this evening of Flamenco dance did not disappoint.
Anna Menendez and Edwin Aparicio make a handsome pair on stage. They meld well, equal in their art, with a rapport that is so necessary to a coupling on stage. Menendez comes to life the minute she takes up the traditional Flamenco stance. Her arms become sinuous, strong yet effortlessly undulating, mesmerizing. She is full of constrained sensuousness. Aparicio’s stance makes the most of his packed frame. He dances as if born into this form, no unintended tensions apparent in the structure of the torso.
The program for the evening was well structured and thought out, the costumes appropriate and colorful. The opening number, Trafalgar, with the two main dancers was gentle and romantic. Markedly different in mood from the third piece, Farruca, also danced by Menendez and Aparicio dressed in blue jeans and white shirts. Starting with Menendez nestled behind Aparicio and both wrapped in the embrace of the traditional fringe shawl, they start with barely-there leg movements by Aparicio and then enter the arena with a flourish. Though Menendez is the one with her arms around Aparicio, one gets the impression that the man is the one in charge, protecting her with warmth and strength. My one reservation with this dance was that having broken away from tradition in this new clothing and entry, perhaps they should have ventured ahead into the realm of the modern world experimenting with new postures, silhouettes and innovative use of their space, taking this item further with the promise it started out with.
The second number, Sevillanas, was beautifully choreographed by Edwin Aparicio and danced by Marta Chico and Sara Jerez. This dance was set to music played at a slow pace and danced with the fitted long dresses with trailing ruffles. Poses held with nobility, movements with majestic grace. I was moved by the simplicity of this dance that depended on real training, emphasized by the drop in the rhythmic pace.
I felt, though, that this was a factor missing in the other group dances. Jerez has a dramatic presence, open and lavish in her dancing. Chico has a quiet, neat and precise persona. While these two pair well, Lisa Scott has some growing to do as a dancer. Her stance is not yet mastered; there is rawness in her arm movements. This made the opening number after intermission, Alegrias De Cadiz, not quite jell for me, though it was danced with ample energy. Again there was a little untidiness in the group dance, Martinete, before intermission, which was danced partially to the hammer and Anvil sound. I feel that this item has the potential to attain the polish it lacks with more performances. A dance that grew out of the miners area, it is said to be heavy and deep in mood but to get that across a more cohesive group energy is required.
The highlights of the evening were the two solos by Menendez and Aparicio. Menendez’s, entitled, Solea, was intense and with a mood of tragedy and pain, perhaps despair. Danced with plays on the twelve beat rhythm it‘s divisions were tapped out by the feet so intricately that I sometimes lost the count wondering if they had taken off on some new beat.
Aparicio came into his own in his solo, Alegrias. Set to a joyous mood his dancing was almost flamboyant. He covered space effortlessly, gliding across from one corner to the other without losing a beat. Both solos were demanding technically and stamina wise and the dancers came through with flying colors.
No performance of Flamenco would be complete without a mention of the musicians. And what musicians! The guitarist, Richard Marlow, an artist with what appears to be more than his fair share of modesty, is a joy, a pleasure, a sorrow to listen to. His every note is clear and concise, yet full of his soul. His solo was not just a filler between dances, it was a statement of artistry and he accompanied the dancers and the singer with the same concentration.
Whenever I attend a performance of dance with accompanying poetry that I cannot understand, I am filled with the sorrow that I do not know at least ten languages. Especially when they come from poetic traditions such as Spanish, with a language (like my native tongue) full of colorful expressions even in everyday usage. Yet it is the universality of the art that allows the artist to reach across to audiences from other cultures and get the right mood across. Such is the gift of artists like singer Jesus Montoya. A large man, he has a large and expansive voice that could well have done without any microphone, especially in such a small hall! I was blown away with his powerful projection and by his warm all encompassing singing. His solo piece was remarkable and flowing. I could close my eyes and imagine us all out in a beautiful green place with a gypsy wagon on the move.
There is something to be said for small performance spaces like the Jack Guidone Theater. They give a chance to artists and companies with little funding and small budgets to reach out to local audiences. Moreover, if you are lucky enough to be able to get a seat in the front half of the hall (I am told that the theater is improving its seating arrangement soon!) you get to see the performers at very close range. It creates a wonderfully intimate atmosphere when you can see every eye movement and every ripple in the arm. It also makes facial expressions very important. While intensity and concentration is part of the Flamenco tradition in the facial expression, dancers must watch out for that intensity turning into a tight frown that then also shapes the mouth downward into a thin unpleasant line.
I asked Jesus Montoya after the show to tell me if I had got the moods of his wonderful Solo Cante right along with the other pieces he sang. And I’ll end with a few of the lines that he translated for me which seem befitting for an evening presented by those following in the footsteps of a gypsy tradition:” Look at how gypsy I am, that I will take the shirt off my back to give to you!”
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