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Flamenco Festival 2008 - Gala Flamenca: Mujeres (Women)

by Rajika Puri
February 15, 2008
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
212.247.0430
The GALA FLAMENCA is a stellar event that has become not only a 'must see' of the New York dance calendar but a highlight of the international Flamenco FestivalTM, now in its eighth year and presented also in London, Washington DC, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, Montreal, Paris & Brussels. Up to this year, however, the evening has been a typical 'variety show', an evening of isolated performances, albeit by excellent performers. A flamenco fan was often left feeling that he or she had tasted many delicious appetizers without having had a proper meal.

This year, Miguel Marin - impresario par excellence and true son of Andalusia - outdid even his normally excellent curatorial skills. For the first production initiated by his Flamenco Festival he brought in the legendary Mario Maya to re-mount a 1996 show by the great Merche Esmeralda: Mujeres (Women) which had featured a trio of powerful performers (in contrast to a star accompanied by a supporting cast). He also gave the new company a full month of to re-fashion and rehearse the show.

Esmeralda's original show, with Angelita Vargas from the gypsy quarter of Seville, and the young Sara Baras of Cadiz, had juxtaposed styles from different parts of Andalusia. With his fifty-year perspective as performer-choreographer-teacher supreme, Mario Maya adds a temporal dimension by focusing on intergenerational stylistic differences between Esmeralda and her current collaborators, the extraordinary dancers, Belen Maya and Rocio Molino, who are joined by singer Diana Navarro, a rising star of the popular Spanish music scene. The Gala now provides variety and it has artistic coherence.

The opening of Mujeres presents the divas in turn – accompanied by verses from Andalusia's beloved poet, Federico Garcia Lorca which speak of the energetic, even painful, burst with which each generation enters the world. The dancers move slowly in half-light, Esmeralda manipulating a manton flamenco shawl, Maya playing with a fan, and Molina punctuating her arm movements with the sound of castanets. Navarro takes over from them with a hint of her new song style.

The evening then unfolds with a series of solos giving us the full flavor of each performer's style, interpolated with trios and duets that permit us to see these styles in conjunction with each other.

Our hearts in our mouths for we had heard she was injured, we watched Belen Maya in a tangos during which she seems to glide across the floor as limpidly as any white swan in a pas de bourree from the ballet Swan Lake. The rhythm of her footwork sharp and clear, she gives us a 'modernist-classicist' interpretation of this flamenco form known to the general public via popular musical groups like the Gypsy Kings.

Over the rest of the evening Merche Esmeralda commands the stage with her signature solea – a flamenco genre that exudes majesty. Rocio Molina, whom we saw plump and filly-like at the Gala in 2005, holds the audience spellbound with her Seguiriyas, simultaneously innovative and revealing of age-old flamenco. She now adds to her iconoclastic interpretation of flamenco a mastery that augurs an exciting future. Diana Navarro, singing a saeta – impassioned Andalusian song form associated with Easter week processions – reminds us of the hold that their Indian past has over the current generation of flamenco musicians with her raga-like riffs reminiscent of north Indian vocal music.

Each of the solo showpieces is spectacular, yet the evening is defined by those offerings in which two or more of these amazing women perform together. Foremost among these is the breathtaking duet – Romance de Zaide - by Belen Maya and Rocio Molina, as 'classically modern' as anything by early Martha Graham, yet totally grounded in traditional flamenco. Dressed in identical purple figure-hugging dresses, they intertwine torsos and arms as they explore the upper body movements that are the hall-mark of a female flamenco dancer's art.

Then comes a duet between Esmeralda and Navarro, the latter singing a traditionally a capella song form - her specialty - to innovative accompaniment by Chico Valdivia on piano, a song which is featured on Navarro's Grammy nominated CD No te Olvides de Mi. Meanwhile Esmeralda challenges her position as arbiter of tradition with her response to this version of 'new flamenco' music, since her arm movements are clearly inspired by abstract-impressionistic modern dance.

The highlight of the evening – and total crowd pleaser - is undoubtedly the caracoles (a parent form of the familiar alegrias): "Viva Madrid", in which the three dancers appear in Mexican pink costumes, each with a bata de cola - flounced train manipulated so elegantly by flamenco dancers' feet. In a magically theatrical moment the black backdrop rises to reveal a bright-pink colored scrim which complements the joy emanating from the performers who now include Diana Navarro in a pink version of her favored costume – a dress fashioned from a fringed flamenco shawl. Feet articulate rapid fire rhythms, bodies execute sinuous back-bends and turns, smiles break through their concentrated effort.

Yes, the crowd went berserk. They gave a standing ovation. However, that doesn't necessarily prove anything in this day of spontaneous exuberance from audiences. What does carry weight is the fact that so many flamenco lovers - from the reviewer of the premier of this Mujeres in Granada to doyens of the flamenco dance community in New York – say that this was one of the BEST flamenco evenings they have ever seen. BRAVO to all who made the evening possible: the department of the Government of Andalucia in charge of developing flamenco, Miguel Marin's Flamenco Festival, the World Music Insititute, and the artists led by their director Mario Maya. To all of you also a reverencia - a deep bow, in awe.
Belen Maya and Rocio Molina in ROMANCE DE ZAIDE Flamenco Festival 2008

Belen Maya and Rocio Molina in ROMANCE DE ZAIDE
Flamenco Festival 2008

Photo © & courtesy of Francisco Manzano


Belen Maya, Merche Esmeralda, and Rocio Molina in CARACOLES Flamenco Festival 2008

Belen Maya, Merche Esmeralda, and Rocio Molina in CARACOLES
Flamenco Festival 2008

Photo © & courtesy of Francisco Manzano


Merche Esmeralda Flamenco Festival 2008

Merche Esmeralda
Flamenco Festival 2008

Photo © & courtesy of Luis Castilla


Belen Maya Flamenco Festival 2008

Belen Maya
Flamenco Festival 2008

Photo © & courtesy of Luis Castilla


Rocio Molina Flamenco Festival 2008

Rocio Molina
Flamenco Festival 2008

Photo © & courtesy of Luis Castilla


Diana Navarro Flamenco Festival 2008

Diana Navarro
Flamenco Festival 2008

Photo © & courtesy of Paco Rubio


Diana Navarro Flamenco Festival 2008

Diana Navarro
Flamenco Festival 2008

Photo © & courtesy of Paco Rubio


Rocio Molina Flamenco Festival 2008

Rocio Molina
Flamenco Festival 2008

Photo © & courtesy of Luis Castilla


Belen Maya Flamenco Festival 2008

Belen Maya
Flamenco Festival 2008

Photo © & courtesy of Javier Suarez


Merche Esmeralda Flamenco Festival 2008

Merche Esmeralda
Flamenco Festival 2008

Photo © & courtesy of Luis Castilla

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