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Flamenco Documentary Film Festival: From Lost "Triana Pura y Pura" to the Latest in "Flamenco Hoy"

by Bonnie Rosenstock
March 12, 2014
Flamenco Documentary Film Festival
Instituto Cervantes
211 East 49th Street
New York, NY 10017
(212) 308-7720
What is flamenco? Who owns bragging rights to it? Over the course of four Wednesdays in March, the nine short and full-length films presented at the Instituto Cervantes New York first Flamenco Documentary Film Festival provided multi-layered responses to these questions, while showcasing the diverse dance, music and song forms, from the past to the modern-day.

Two 2013 award-winning films that encapsulated—and juxtaposed—the old guard and the vanguard were presented on the same night: "Triana Pura y Pura" ("Triana Pure and Pure") by Ricardo Pachón, and "Flamenco Hoy" ("Flamenco Today"), filmed by French Canadian brothers Pierre and François Lamoureux.

In 1957, the Franco regime, without warning, violently ejected the gypsies of the Seville barrio of Triana (in southern Spain) and dispersed them into ghettos and housing in crime-ridden, drug-infested neighborhoods without running water, electricity or even paved roads, on the city's margins. The gypsies had been peacefully integrated into the life of the city for 400 years, and gypsy Triana was the acknowledged epicenter of flamenco puro. With their departure, a way of life—and flamenco—was destroyed forever.

On February 28, 1983, the former residents reunited to throw a two-hour final farewell at Seville's Teatro Lope de Vega. Thirty years later, Pachón edited down the previously unreleased film to 73 minutes of pure joy, passion and historical significance, an eye-opening rediscovery of a flamenco hitherto lost and forgotten. Interspersed between the juerga (party) Pachón added archival footage, biographies of the performers and recollections about life in the barrio, which is now upscale, high-end real estate.

Most of the performers were well-known in their day, names like El Titi, El Pati, El Filigrana, El Herejia, El Potage, El Coneja, the blind showstopper Pepa La Calzona, who had to be led on and off the stage, which she didn't want to leave. When superstar El Farruco showed up (although not born in Triana, he spent a good deal of time there), the crowd went wild. El Farruco's girth never impeded his wild explosive dance style, sense of rhythm and popularity.

The women danced barefoot or in low flats and unabashedly swung their hips and thrust their pelvises in solos and in duets with their compadres. During the Franco era, bailaoras were forced to wear puchos, or enaguas, an underskirt, because they had the habit of lifting their skirts, showing leg and other parts, scandalizing the fascist ladies. No such restrictions or self-consciousness on this night, where raw sensuality ruled, mostly lost in modern-day, neutered flamenco dance.

Flamenco guitarist/poet/singer Manuel Molina declared, "Where there is soléa [plural soleares], there is flamenco." Molina was the subject of Tao Ruspoli's intimate portrait, "Manuel" (2013), presented on opening night. In "Triana" he appeared as a guest commentator and was one of the guitarists in 1983. His then-wife, Lole Montoya (of the Montoya gypsy clan, like El Farruco) sang soleares, which are set or improvised lyrics of three or four lines, describing everyday life, irony, intimate pain, suffering and despair. In the 1970s, Lole and Manuel were a popular duo who infused flamenco with Arabic rhythms, considered vanguard in its day.

I have never seen an audience so engaged in the emotional outpouring emanating from the screen. They applauded throughout, along with the screen audience. I watched much of the film through eyes clouded with tears. More than 20 years older, long in tooth, bodies aching and worn down by a hardscrabble life, the viejos proved their mettle. Someone in the film's audience shouted out, "Long live the elderly." Olé.

The frères Lamoureux filmed the live performance of "Flamenco Hoy" in one night, in June 2011, in San Sebastian, Spain, in 3D with 16 cameras. We viewed it in 2D in the Instituto's intimate plush 144-seat theater. The production, conceived in 2009, was choreographed by Rafael Estévez and Nani Paños, music composed by Chano Domínguez and staged by filmmaker Carlos Saura. Saura is best known for his 1980s flamenco film trilogy, "Carmen" (as a play within a play), "Blood Wedding" and "El Amor Brujo." Although Saura wasn't involved in the film project, the live show bears his signature film concepts: the marvelous lighting, simple clean lines and images without flamboyance, the use of mirrors, sensuality in the narrative, the dancers shot from different angles, the relationship between mentor and student.

The show is modern and slick and breaks from flamenco's canon. Domínguez's compositions include cello, bass, sax and flute as well as traditional instruments. The choreography is infused with stylistic flamenco movement: arched backs, elongated necks, expressive arms, hands and fingers. In a telephone interview with Pierre, who lives in New York, he commented, "Flamenco started evolving after the dictatorship [1939-1975] and is now influenced by other things. The dancers study other dance forms. The music has evolved as well and is jazz influenced. For those who want to keep it pure, there are museums for that. As an art form it needs to take up the aspirations, energy and dreams of young dancers and singers influenced by the world now."

He added, accurately, "Flamenco was never pure." It has its roots in the encounter between Arabic, Jewish and gypsy cultures in Andalucía (southern Spain), and it has evolved over the centuries. The great non-gypsy guitarist Paco de Lucía transformed the way flamenco is played; the brilliant cantaor Camarón de la Isla revolutionized song. (Both giants, now gone, were the subjects of fascinating documentaries on the final night.)

There were many enjoyable moments in "Flamenco Hoy." The attractive under-30 dancers were exceptional as an ensemble and in featured roles. (In traditional shows, dancers are various ages.) The choreography in a dance studio (with many mirrors) was engaging. The women wore skirts hinting at tutus and all the performers wore soft shoes, except for the teacher. One of the male soloists, rail-thin, did a tour de force of multiple jumps and turns. The teacher's role was performed by a short, stocky dancer, dressed in flamenco garb and shoes, who was expert in zapateo (footwork). Another highlight was a solo by a woman named Marina, dressed in yellow, who used her fan, face and body in enticing ways.

However, "Flamenco Hoy" didn't hold my attention. Perhaps it was the contrast with "Triana," all emotion and nostalgia, or maybe it was the late hour and we were tired (about half the audience had left before the film ended), or maybe it was the fast-paced camera work; it captured all angles of the dancers' bodies and body parts in swift succession, sometimes to lovely effect, but sometimes not enough time to savor the moments.

"The challenge was in the framing and understanding of the body movement," explained Pierre, who usually films music concerts. "It is easy to truncate or crop out something that to the normal eye might not seem important, but is essential to choreography. I was told not to get distracted by only filming the feet. When they land, it is not just the feet, it's an extension of the body, which follows through to stance and motion and very often leads to another movement. Very often it's the transition between movements that makes it interesting, not just the individual movement.

"The alternative of having a wide shot is not really an option; it makes it archival," he continued. "It's not just the torso, but extremities, feet and also fingers. I tried to be poetic and elegant and not distracted by the first level of things. Interesting things are often the interaction happening in the second and third levels."

The filmmakers honed down the two-hour show to 89 minutes. "When filming a live concert, the performers need time to change costumes," said Pierre. "It isn't necessarily filler, but instrumental parts that help people transition, which don't need to happen in film. But we respected the order of the film and the way the concert flowed."

They also needed to consider the physical limitations of TV. "Eighty-nine minutes is Pay-Per-View format," he said. On the big screen, under two hours is preferred, so the theater can book more film slots.

The touring show has traveled around the world, had its New York run at City Center two years ago and will dance its way back to the Big Apple sometime in the fall of next year. The film is slated for broadcast on public television and will be available on DVD and Blu-ray in the fall.

In 2010, UNESCO proclaimed flamenco an "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity." After seeing "Triana," Farruquito, El Farruco's grandson, said he rethought his way of dancing. He realized he didn't have to pound his feet on the stage so much. In his recent show, he aimed for a purer style, quoted in an article in Spanish, as being "less of a circus." Maybe everything old will be new again.

The non-profit Instituto Cervantes was created by the Spanish government in 1991 to promote the Spanish language and contribute to the advancement of the cultures of all Spanish-speaking countries. http://nyork.cervantes.es.
Link to information and trailers for the individual films: http://flamencofilmfest.com/program/full-program. For "Flamenco Hoy," go to http://youtu.be/ujjncjKKw60. Behind-the-scenes documentary: http://youtu.be/Vd7-BBRZxkY . Excerpts of "Triana Pura y Pura" on various YouTube sites in Spanish.
A scene from Pierre and François Lamoureux's 'Flamenco Hoy'.

A scene from Pierre and François Lamoureux's "Flamenco Hoy".

Photo © & courtesy of Juanlu Vela


A scene from Pierre and François Lamoureux's 'Flamenco Hoy'.

A scene from Pierre and François Lamoureux's "Flamenco Hoy".

Photo © & courtesy of Juanlu Vela


A scene from Pierre and François Lamoureux's 'Flamenco Hoy'.

A scene from Pierre and François Lamoureux's "Flamenco Hoy".

Photo © & courtesy of Juanlu Vela


A scene from by Ricardo Pachón's 'Triana Pura y Pura'.

A scene from by Ricardo Pachón's "Triana Pura y Pura".

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