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Heart Song beats to a loud "ole!"

by Jessica Abrams
May 25, 2013
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
323-663-1525
"Give me your history… the history of the heart. Your blood story, your passion. Give me the wound of your true spirit, the dark cry of your soul."

These words are passionately spoken by Katarina de la Fuente, played by the dazzling Maria "Cha Cha" Bermudez in Heart Song, Stephen Sachs' world premiere play which opened last night at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. Bermudez, a world-renowned Flamenco dancer who also choreographed the dance sequences, schools the resistant and menopausal Rochelle (played by Pamela Dunlap, known most recently for playing Betty Draper's unyielding mother-in-law in AMC's "Mad Men") on the way of life that is flamenco and, ultimately, leads her down the path of healing. Breaking the fourth wall, she also schools us. As such, Heart Song manages to combine moving narrative, stunning choreography, and fascinating factual information in one transcendent evening of theatre.

Directed by Shirley Jo Finney, Heart Song tells the story of Rochelle who, facing a midlife crisis and mired in agita, is coping with the death of her mother a year prior. In her fifties and finding herself alone for the first time, Rochelle faces life's big questions but is too stuck in the rigid grooves of her own deeply-held beliefs to know where the answers might lie. Her massage therapist Tina (played by the elegant Tamlyn Tomita) senses that Rochelle needs more than just a once-a-month kneading and drags her client to what for her has become a combination of support group, exercise class and spiritual safe haven all in one precious hour. "Jews doing Flamenco?" Rochelle asks. "Instead of ole, the crowd shouts 'oy vey'." Once coerced into the sacred space, Rochelle encounters a welcoming group of women, including Daloris, a recent cancer survivor, (played by the effervescent and scene-stealing Juanita Jennings) and comes to find she's not alone in carrying both a cultural and personal legacy of pain. Eventually she learns that by becoming one with that pain she can transcend it.

"In flamenco we look inside the soul. We fan the flame… and wake up what is sleeping. Whatever emotion is buried deep, there is flamenco to release it, to set it free."

Dance, specifically flamenco, is its own character in Heart Song. Bermudez gifts us with her artistry in the smallest of movements and the simplest of lines. A mere flick of the wrist transports us to a place far removed from antidepressants and the Disney-esque denial of life's harsher realities. When she stomps her feet and claps her hands it is if we are woken up. When she swirls her shawl, she cuts through the air like a chef's knife. Embodying the spirit of Flamenco down to her fingertips, she is its prophet, its emissary.

The dance sequences involving the ensemble fit beautifully into the story, with the actors – some of whom are trained dancers – tight, expressive, and clearly moved themselves. When Rochelle's body gives in and comes to life for the first time, we feel her catharsis.

The spirit of duende, the idea that death is constant presence in life – the idea behind Flamenco – is contrasted nicely with the humor found throughout the play – Jewish humor, to be exact. As the spirit of flamenco reveals itself, we learn there's a reason for this: humor also comes out of pain and is simply another way of expressing it. Sachs' script balances the weightier issues with which the play grapples with a levity that reminds us that life and death don't have to be, well, life and death.

The true meaning of flamenco aside, what really comes through in Heart Song is the transformative nature of a body in motion. From Rochelle's clumsy but deeply moving physical exorcism to her classmates' reclaiming a part of themselves that, as women, has been shunted aside when they throw their shoulders back and stomp their feet, the physical movement allows these shifts to happen. Watching it, hearing Katarina tell the story of the gypsy legacy, we can't help but be transformed along with them.

But the truth is, what we really want to do is take up flamenco.
Heart Song

Heart Song

Photo © & courtesy of Ed Krieger


Heart Song

Heart Song

Photo © & courtesy of Ed Krieger


Heart Song

Heart Song

Photo © & courtesy of Ed Krieger


Heart Song

Heart Song

Photo © & courtesy of Ed Krieger


Heart Song

Heart Song

Photo © & courtesy of Ed Krieger


Heart Song

Heart Song

Photo © & courtesy of Ed Krieger

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