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Forever Flamenco Dazzles

by Jessica Abrams
September 30, 2016
Barnsdall Theater
4800 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027-5302
323-644-6272
The Spanish term "duende" is one of those words not easily translated into English. It loosely describes having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity. On the other hand, Federico Garcia Lorca, no stranger to the topic, described duende as the power that takes over both artist and those experiencing the art, the dynamic force that lives inside the artist, that cannot be described or pondered intellectually. Other meanings link it to the constant presence of death, and the intricate dance between light and dark, as it appears in art. And then, Australian musician Nick Cave puts it this way: “All that has dark sound has duende.”

To say that Flamenco dance has duende is like saying jazz music has syncopation. Flamenco is duende in all its meanings; the soulfulness, the sadness, the pain and the combining of all of those into something as ephemeral and indescribable as dance. And duende was everywhere in Sunday, September 25th’s performance of Forever Flamenco with Lakshmi Basile at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre. It was in the haunting voice of singer Jesus Montoya and his odes to lost love, death, and the miracle of life (and I don’t speak Spanish). It was in the elegiac guitar playing of Jose Tanaka, and in the fiery, flirty, sensual dance of Vanessa Albalos. But nowhere was duende more present than in the dancing of Basile herself.

Although embodying the qualities of a true Flamenco bailarin, Basile actually hails from San Diego, California, where she studied all types of dance before moving to Spain at twenty to deepen her Flamenco studies. And truth be told, her background is as varied as the style of dance for which she was destined. Part Argentine and a mishmosh of American, with hints of Egyptian and Spanish thrown in, Basile seemed to have taken a bite from the soul of all these old cultures, digested them, and used the caloric intake to fuel the passionate, soulful and technically virtuosic dance that has become her hallmark.

The evening oscillated between straight music and dance; and though the singing of Montoya coupled with the guitar of Tanaka (and, at times, Bruno Serrano who played a second guitar and also danced) not to mention the upright bass of Jeff Basile stood alone in its own right, when Basile took the stage her energy, power and technique provided the true sustenance of the evening.

Basile practices a more traditional style of Flamenco – Flamenco puro—which is improvised rather than choreographed. With her proud carriage, regal bearing and gentle rolling of the hips, Basile embodied the spirit of Flamenco the minute she walked on stage. At times she used her scarf as a tent, at times she toyed with it as if she were taunting a bull; but nowhere was the drama more evident than in her face, and nowhere did the concept of duende make itself more apparent. Basile’s face was a play of emotion: at times it turned into a grimace so infused with a collective pain that it was a thing of beauty onto itself; at times it smiled with a light from within that graced the auditorium with its luminescence.

Vanessa Albalos provided a beautiful counter to Basile’s tall drink of water. Allowing her curves to savor each movement, Albalos embodied a more sensual side of duende with no less technical prowess. The third number had Basile, Albalos and Serrano rotating in a circle, taking turns beating out rhythms. Although no music accompanied them, it wasn’t missed; the three created their own with their foot-stomping and sheer verve, each out-dazzling the other and, at times, collaborating in a duel of fire versus ice or simply, again, another embodiment of duende.

The dancers took turns, sometimes dancing together, other times taking the stage while the other sat out. Albalos teased while Basile took a more direct approach, each approaching the singer, taunting him, flirting with him. Over time, a signature move of each would surface: Albalos lifting her skirt and then slapping her hands against thighs, Basile standing center stage, squared off, arms stretched to the sky, upper back slightly arched back.

This duality played itself out again and again in many ways. The grounded footwork versus the delicacy of the port de bras; a happiness juxtaposed with a heaviness. Light versus dark and sensuality versus spirit. And yet to say there was competition would be to simplify the proceedings. There was synchronicity as these diametrically opposing elements worked in harmony. That is Flamenco. That is duende. That is life.
Leilah Broukhim in 'Forever Flamenco.'

Leilah Broukhim in "Forever Flamenco."

Photo © & courtesy of Angelica Escoto


Manuel Gutierrez in 'Forever Flamenco.' Photo courtesy<br>Patrick Rogers and Juan Ocampo.

Manuel Gutierrez in "Forever Flamenco." Photo courtesy
Patrick Rogers and Juan Ocampo.


Andres Vadin in 'Forever Flamenco.' Photo courtesy Fountain Theatre.

Andres Vadin in "Forever Flamenco." Photo courtesy Fountain Theatre.

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