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Paul Ben-Itzak
Performance Reviews
Special Focus
Flamenco
Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt
France
Paris, OT (France)
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Galvan's Apocalypse - From sandbox to coffin with flamenco innovator

by Paul Ben-Itzak
June 1, 2010
Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt
2 place du Chatelet
Paris, OT (France) 75004
0142742277
PARIS — In his 2008 "El final de este estad de cosas, redux," which received its Paris premiere May 31 at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, where it continues through June 5, nouveau flamenco sensation Israel Galvan takes on nothing less than the Apocalypse, setting himself in a musical, set, and props kaleidescope that terminates in a stark and virtuoso fashion with the star trying to stomp his way out of an upright coffin as the life ebbs out of him. With Galvan, the line between clever gimmick and task-oriented flamenco — in which the prop actually produces a new dance dynamic — is sometimes thin.

The coffin finale is absolutely brilliant, beginning with a man drumming on one, joined by a singer, then by Galvan, who slowly makes his way over to the downstage right upright open casket. But he doesn't go in right away, tantalizingly dancing around it, teasing us, even with hand curls (Galvan has great hands) until we actually can't wait for him to go into the coffin, just to see what he'll do with and in it. If it's predictable that he'll tap on the top with his knuckles, that we've already seen what he's capable of in producing music with his hands makes us forgive him. And what's inventive — and maybe why in the end his use of props works more than it falls flat — is that he fully uses the terrain, not just stomping on the bottom of the coffin but exploring its circumferance with sliding hands, flipping a heel to one side or to the other.

There is also the inventiveness that one encourages even if in the end it can be acerbic, grating to listen to. I found the sound produced by Galvan's stomping on a springed board — actually several boards, connected by hinges, which is perhaps what made them spring or bounce up and down, producing a clattering effect when he stomped — a bit irritating to listen to, because it wasn't as clean as stomping on a solid floor, but rang hollow and somewhat loose. But I liked and in general like that Galvan experiments with surfaces, with the rapport between the feet and the ground, whether dancing barefoot in a sandbox at the beginning or later barefoot on a solid floor. This kind of experimentation between the fundamental elements of feet and floor merits a lot more respect than, say, the hokey plots introduced by some flamenco artists in an attempt to be 'modern.' It also thus merits a lot more lee-way. Part of the bargain, though, is that we have a right to say where it doesn't work.

The most extreme example of this for me was when Galvan combined the stirring flamenco singer Ines Bacan with the rock band Orthodox (somewhat cheesily adorned in shrouded cloaks). They effectively drowned her out with loud electric guitar and drum-heavy rock; I would even say it bordered on undignified to ask Bacan, with such a fine voice, to perform with just generic, undisciplined noise.

I was always glad when the roots flamenco ensemble of Jucan Jose Amador (voice), Alfredo Lagos (virtuoso, speedy guitar), Jose Carrasco (percussions), and Babote (danse, palas, compas) returned.

But still, there was that mis en scene, where prop or costume elements were introduced without apparent reason. Galvan has sometimes been described as androgynous. I see that, as I see it in the photographs of Nijinsky (with whom the flamenco star has sometimes been compared), but I don't see the need for him to perform with false breasts (no kidding), which has the counter-effect of suggesting a superficial burlesque femininity.

More genuine was the appearance, on video projected on a large screen hung downstage right towards the beginning of the show — perhaps for its apocalyptic overtones — of Yalda Younes, a student of Galvan's. A tribute to Samir Kassir, killed in 2005, it documents a performance that took place on June 2, 2006 in Beirut — as Israeli bombs were falling on Lebanon; one can even see flashes of light in the background as Younes performs on a darkened stage. "This video was filmed during the middle of Israel's war against me, against my people," Younes says in accompanying text taken from the letter she wrote Galvan when she sent him the video. "This dance is all I have to say 'No.'"

Dance and dancers often seem to me aloof from what is for many a difficult reality. What I loved about Galvan's inclusion of this extract, this powerful slice of reality — all the more relevant to see the day after Israel killed nine people on a humanitarian aid flotilla in international waters (Israel says its soldiers were attacked first; the activists say Israel fired first) — is that it shows directly the power of dance, and particularly this emotive dance and music form, to, if not heal, at least provide some salve and solace. In a way it also contextualized the rest of the dance. For all his own acknowledged virtuosity, Galvan gave premiere place to a student performing his choreography; never mind that she couldn't render it at the same level as the master; it delivered here and showed us how dance and particularly flamenco can deliver.
Israel Galvan

Israel Galvan

Photo © & courtesy of Luis Castilla


Israel Galvan

Israel Galvan

Photo © & courtesy of Luis Castilla


Israel Galvan

Israel Galvan

Photo © & courtesy of Luis Castilla

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