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Flamenco’s La Lupi in a Riveting RETOrno to Roots

by Bonnie Rosenstock
March 10, 2016
Symphony Space
2537 Broadway
New York, NY 10025
(212) 864-1414
There was never a time when the consummate bailaora Susana Lupiáñez Pinto, “La Lupi,” didn’t want to dance flamenco. When she was barely eight years old, without telling anyone, she took herself to the Conservatory of Dance in her hometown of Málaga and tried to matriculate. The quota was already filled, but she cried so much that they admitted her. That passion and determination has never left her. Now, at age 45, La Lupi is in her prime. Her life experience, emotional intelligence, mastery of the art of flamenco and powerful physicality were all brought to fruition in RETOrno, her riveting exploration of deep-rooted folklore and tradition.

For one night only, March 5, 2016 at Symphony Space as part of the World Music Institute’s Festival Ay! Más Flamenco, La Lupi, looked back to the dances of the past with a view towards the future. In search of the concept “less is more,” she needed no more than a few costume changes, a guitar, two singers and a bare stage (except for a hat rack with a draped bata de cola and Cordovan hat) to enthrall.

I first saw La Lupi in Madrid last June, in “Cartas a Pastora” (“Letters to Pastora”), her inspiring homage to the great gypsy bailaora/cantaora Pastora Imperio, who it is said popularized the bata de cola, the long layered dress with a train. (Its first recorded use was by her mother, La Mejorana.) The bata de cola is difficult to dance with, and many dancers have either dispensed with it or given it less play. But La Lupi dominates it. She is like a bullfighter taunting a bull. She seduces it, she encircles it as it encircles her, she plays with it, she stuns it by whipping it around with her body or a foot, she embraces it. It is remarkable.

She is also master of the mantón, a long-fringed embroidered shawl. La Lupi performed several sublime dances with a shawl, discovering myriad ways to wrap it about her body, suspend it above her, whirl it as she whirled. She has made an art out of fan work, as well, manipulating it in all sorts of patterns. The Cordovan hat, an Andalusian tradition worn by both men and women, was another tool at her disposal. La Lupi worked it in ways that did not always involve wearing it. The one superfluous short segment was her use of a tubular stick, a percussion instrument, that she turned up and down, which produced water- or bird-like sounds. She also sat on it when it was suspended and then kicked it away.

Her footwork combinations were peerless. But flamenco is not just about the zapateados. It’s about attitude, commitment, a constant flow of that ineffable duende—delving deep into sorrow and joy and expressing it with authenticity. La Lupi delivered on all counts.

There were also the quiet moments that spoke volumes: a look, a raised eyebrow, a slight turn of the head or body, a held posture. Then those small movements, fingers and hands circling wrists, a shrug of the shoulders, a bend in the arm or torso that commanded our full attention.

The interludes between her dancing were tour de force performances for the accomplished guitarist Curro de María, her longtime collaborator, and the two amazing singers, Gabriel de la Tomasa and Alfredo Tejada. When they accompanied La Lupi, it was magical. At the finale, the emotive singing and guitar playing seemed to drive her dancing to new heights of intensity.

In an interview in a Spanish publication La Lupi stated that she struggles to be “a good flamenco dancer for the present day and not a good artist of the past.” She prefers to hear “how well you dance” to “what a good artist you are.” This performance leaves no doubt that she dances well.
Spanish Flamenco dancer La Lupi (born Susana Lupianez Pinto) performs with her company at a World Music Institute 'Festival Ay! Mas Flamenco' concert at Symphony Space, New York, New York, Saturday, March 5, 2016.

Spanish Flamenco dancer La Lupi (born Susana Lupianez Pinto) performs with her company at a World Music Institute 'Festival Ay! Mas Flamenco' concert at Symphony Space, New York, New York, Saturday, March 5, 2016.


Spanish Flamenco dancer La Lupi (born Susana Lupianez Pinto) performs with her company at a World Music Institute 'Festival Ay! Mas Flamenco' concert at Symphony Space, New York, New York, Saturday, March 5, 2016.

Spanish Flamenco dancer La Lupi (born Susana Lupianez Pinto) performs with her company at a World Music Institute 'Festival Ay! Mas Flamenco' concert at Symphony Space, New York, New York, Saturday, March 5, 2016.


Spanish Flamenco dancer La Lupi (born Susana Lupianez Pinto) performs with her company at a World Music Institute 'Festival Ay! Mas Flamenco' concert at Symphony Space, New York, New York, Saturday, March 5, 2016.

Spanish Flamenco dancer La Lupi (born Susana Lupianez Pinto) performs with her company at a World Music Institute 'Festival Ay! Mas Flamenco' concert at Symphony Space, New York, New York, Saturday, March 5, 2016.

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