writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Classics and Legends

Compania Andaluza de Danza
4th Annual Flamenco Festival
Lisner Auditorium
George Washington Universiity
Washiington, D.C.
February 7, 2004

by Tehreema Mitha
copyright 2004 by Tehreema Mitha

The Flamenco festival, having just completed its fourth year, is firmly established in the hearts of those who follow Flamenco.

“Compania Andaluza de Danza” started its program on the 7th of February, Saturday evening, with Bodas De Sangre (Blood Wedding) the famous theatre piece by Federico Garcia Lorca. The story is full of romance and tragedy as are all traditional tales from Spain.

The long play cut down to the essence by the choreographer starts with the introduction of the mother alone on the stage standing stock still, soon joined by her jovial son preparing for the wedding. It is clear from the start that the mother is not happy and we are supposed to understand that she has a sense of foreboding, taking away the ceremonial dagger worn by her son to forestall any ill omen. It is sad, though, that the mother is given no real dancing to do to bring out her character, and except for her expression of “foreboding” there is no growth of the character as the story progresses. In the original play, the character of the mother is very large, a powerful woman wielding great influence over her son, who takes her matriarchal duties seriously and influences the final act.

We then have a glimpse of the Lover and his wife with the baby being rocked in its cradle. A wife who craves the attention of her husband but can tell only too clearly that she is not the recipient of his affections.

After this the bride to be makes her appearance, reluctantly preparing for her upcoming nuptials. She and her lover, separated from each other, dance out a scene of passion, imagining themselves making love with each other, poignant because of the empty air that their arms enclose. Yet they must follow the dictates of society and she must go forth to her marriage ceremony.

The marriage ceremony is kept rightly short, but this is a good excuse to put more energy into the celebratory dance danced by whole crowd of wedding guests and the main characters. During this dance the tensions between the lover who appears at the celebrations and the others are all given their moment… and suddenly the pair are missing and have eloped.

Throughout the dance Antonio Gades, the choreographer, utilizes slow motion action perhaps to give greater impact to the fast paced parts of the dance. He uses it to show the eloping pair galloping away on their horses in slow leg and torso movements beautifully done; the Groom (now handed his dagger back by his mother who urges him to chase the pair) and his fellow companions also move across the stage with the same galloping movements giving us in a short time a sense of the vast areas covered.

This slow motion movement is brought to its fruition in the section that follows where the groom and the lover armed with their lethal daggers face each other in a fight to the death. Though the choreography of this section is almost too real in it’s thrusts and parleys, the incredibly slow movements set in silence were danced with total control and grace by the two protagonists. The presence of the bride looking on is almost superfluous as really is the presence of the woman who gives birth to such passion in such men but then is forgotten in the contest of male egos.

At the final moment of death with the both bodies falling, there is, surprisingly little reaction from the bride who walks slowly off the stage.

Though much acclaimed, to me this dance was somewhat disappointing, lacking the true rendition of passion and tragedy that I expect from Flamenco. Danced in a style that is more refined, less from the gypsy tradition, the yearning and hot blood that compels the lover and the bride to take a step that at the back of their minds they know is full of risk, is not brought out enough. The lover, much loved by the audience, is almost too stiff and arrogant in his dancing; the heat never turns on. Everybody seems full of foreboding throughout, yet the reason for it, the passion that is not in control of anybody’s reason, is not at all evident. Perhaps the fault lies in the choice of dancers for these roles.

This was completely different though, in the second half of the evening during La Leyenda a dance choreographed by Jose Antonio as a tribute to the legendry Carmen Amaya, opening with the whole company on stage. The entire company danced with exuberance.

The choreographer in this dance runs a duel message. There is the separation of the character of Carmen, on one hand the woman and on the other hand the legend. There is too the separation of atmosphere of different arenas where Flamenco is danced, the groups, the salons, and the stages of life that Carmen (coming from a poor background and then rising to stardom) passed through. This latter part of the story line is not exactly evident, yet one is not too bothered with that. What comes through is the different ways that the choreographer has explored presenting both traditional Flamenco and then working outside of the framework. The most outstanding pieces to me were the first presentation of the two sides of the main character of Carmen, danced too superb fulfillment. Beautifully lit by Paloma Contreras’s lighting design, the two parts of the character seems as one and then as distinctly different: fluid, yet arched and angular; voluptuous yet innocent. It is a beautifully choreographed piece. A solo follows this with castanets, a more sophisticated section that is set off by the costume and controlled twirls.

One of the joys of dancing and watching others in Flamenco is the amount of space given to each dancer to bring out his/her own expression and to some extent personality in the facial expressions as well as small gestures of hand and the turn of the head. As such some stand out even in the crowd scenes. The section for a trio of men in La Leyenda was superbly set and presented. The three men picked for the trio were justifiable, being those that one picked out from the crowd in any case and each had a style that acted as a foil to each other. Miguel A. Corbacho (who had danced the character of the Lover in Bodas De Sangre) finally let loose and gave the passionate performance that he should have in the first dance. Now and then though he gritted his teeth and snarled almost menacingly. In complete contrast to him, the taller slick haired dancer danced smoothly with complete confidence and a charming demeanor as if to say, “I love dancing and I don’t need to show off” and then the third dancer, with his black lock of curly hair, danced with extraordinary energy and verve.

I wish that someone from the world of Flamenco would also explore the reason for Carmen wanting at times to dance dressed as a man as shown in this dance. Was it just that she wanted to be allowed to dance in a more masculine style than was thought right for a woman in those time? Or was there a more dual sexual personality in her own self? That is not clear in the dance. While both characters are dance well, the woman and the immortal soul of Carmen, not enough attention is given in the choreography of the “woman” who was more than able to dance a challenge.

The entire choreography of La Leyenda is earthier in nature to the first dance and perhaps a good contrast for an evenings show.


Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 6
February 9, 2004

© 2004 Tehreema Mitha




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last updated on February 9, 2004