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Robert Abrams
Performance Reviews
Helen Mills Theater
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Flamenclorico: Lore of the Miners – an homage to the miners of Andalucia - a theatrical dance production by Pasión Flamenca

by Robert Abrams
February 5, 2008
Helen Mills Theater
139 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10001

TICKETS: http://www.smarttix.com/show.aspx?showCode=FLA6 or call Smarttix at 212-868-4444.

Group discount (10+) tickets available. Call 212-625-8369 Ext. 284 or email info@artsflamenco.com for information.
Flamenclorico: Lore of the Miners – a theatrical dance production by Pasión Flamenca, was not quite what I was expecting. I had assumed this was going to be either a staged documentary of miners' stories illustrated with Flamenco dancing and music, or a full dance-theatre story ballet. Lore of the Miners has a narrative, but it is more of a suggestion of a narrative. Lore of the Miners is a show that falls somewhere between pure, abstract dance and a full story ballet. As such, I thought that Lore of the Miners presented an innovative conceptual design that was brilliantly executed.

The basic story as I saw it while watching the show goes as follows. In Act I, miners awake, get dressed, meet in a bar, take an elevator down into the mine, and work all day breaking rocks. Finally, they take the elevator back up to the surface. In Act II, the mining family is at home, more relaxed, but the danger of the mine is never far away.

Except for a couple of sequences, the choreography is more abstract dance than literal enactment. Some of the choreography is specifically choreographed, and some, especially in Act II, looks like it is probably improvised within a set of guidelines the way Flamenco is often improvised in tablao settings. The dancing would have been very good on its own without any story at all, but I thought that the narrative amplified the dancing. For instance, the dancers were not miming the use of pick-axes, but I could clearly see that they were working, and could feel their determination, intensity, their sense of urgency. Maybe you can mine coal with just your feet and three pairs of Flamenco boots? Or iron ore, mining is always dangerous.

The mining sequence, in particular, was brilliant. I think it would hold up side by side with the best choreography from any dance company. The three men transformed into human jackhammers that started out somewhat discordant; as they worked they became increasingly in sync and efficient. It was abstract, but it was also a perfect representation of the nature of work. Flamenco is known as a dance form in which the dancers' feet contribute to the music. This sequence took the audible dance concept much farther than I have heard before. The sequence was filled with rhythmic offsets that were both sophisticated and forceful. In some ways, this was very minimalist Flamenco, no movement gone to waste. The dance then picked up speed, and eventually opened up with more body motion. It ended with a kind of parade Flamenco in place. Very cool. I said it was brilliant, right? No question, brilliant.

Here are a few more details from Act I that stood out, representing the quality of the rest. Arms with a quick start and a slow, long follow through. A literal biography section, in which English narration illustrated the story of a miner who was injured in an accident. This section was the sort of dance-theatre I had expected the whole show to consist of. It made explicit the stubborn survival and urgent love that is implied throughout the show.

Act II featured female dancers to a greater extent than Act I had. I thought it presented an interesting study in the differences and similarities of masculine and feminine strength. Hillary Clinton and other female politicians might benefit from seeing Lore of the Miners. Male politicians too, but at the present moment it is often female office holders and candidates who are put in a difficult bind as to how they should act. A study of Flamenco might help them to find a more sophisticated balance.

Some more highlights from Act II. A quad spin on one foot. At least a quad, Raúl Ortega may have spun around more than four times. As I said before, much of the dancing in Act II appeared to be improvisational, but it was very precise, even when it was a little wild. A slow rhythmic walk, contained and then released into controlled fury. Just before the birth canal tunnel speech, Leilah Broukhim has her back to the audience. She twists her head and body around to look at the audience, strikes with a button. Very momentary, but powerful. Jorge Navarro had great humor in the smallest of isolations. A section in which the choreography alternated between vertical bodies and stamping feet at times and swooping arms and quiet feet at other times. This choreography used the full range of visual and audible tools available in Flamenco. Even the musicians can dance. The singers were very expressive. The final image: a siren, the dancers hold each other in concern, church bells.

The production has only one real flaw, and that flaw isn't under anyone's control. There is a column that blocks the view of the right edge of the stage if you are sitting on the far right side of the house. As a result, if you are sitting in the last three seats on the right side, your view of the dancers will be fine, but you will have difficulty seeing the musicians. Flamenco musicians have a drama of their own, so this is unfortunate, but the column is needed to hold the building up. Otherwise, the Helen Mills Theater is a very nice space. Lore of the Miners has open seating, so get there early and get a seat on the left or in the middle of the house if you can. Or go twice. There is enough richness in the show that you will in all likelihood get more out of it with each viewing.

Throughout the whole show, the cast is sustained by each others' energy. They just don't stop. The performance is always at least very good, with flashes of brilliance. The characters in the narrative may be mining coal and iron ore, but the show is mining diamonds.

Lore of the Miners was developed by the same team that produces the weekly Flamenco tablao called Alegrias at La Nacional. While the weekly Alegrias shows are always good or better, Lore of the Miners takes Flamenco to a whole other level. Lore of the Miners runs from February 5 to 10, 2008 at the Helen Mills Theater (139 West 26 Street in NYC). Lore of the Miners is worth serious consideration, so don't miss it.

While this was a stage production in a theater, not a tablao, on opening night there was a lively reception after the show with food and drink, as well as a raffle for dinner at Bombay Talkie, an Indian restaurant that is one of ArtsFlamenco's supporters.

Credits -
Producer: The New York Center for Flamenco Performing Arts/ArtsFlamenco
Artistic Director: Jorge Navarro
Choreography Director: Antonio Hidalgo
Music Composer/Arranger/Director: Pedro Cortés
Lighting Manager: Walter Guzman
Sound Manager: Dubway Studios NYC
Stage Manager: Walter Guzman
Asst. Stage Manager: Sanaz Partoui
House Manager: CHIK Associates, LLC
Ticketing Agent: SmartTix
Photographer: Cindy Quezada
Dancers: Jorge Navarro, Antonio Hidalgo, Raúl Ortega, Puy Navarro, Leilah Broukhim
Narrator: Puy Navarro
Singers: Sara Salado, María Benjumeda
Guitarists: Pedro Cortés, Javier Navarro
In the Mine

In the Mine

Photo © & courtesy of Cindy Quezada

At Home

At Home

Photo © & courtesy of Cindy Quezada

At Home

At Home

Photo © & courtesy of Cindy Quezada

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