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Lewis J Whittington
Performance Reviews
multiple locations

Pasión y Arte’s Spring Tablao Philly Intoxicates

by Lewis J Whittington
May 6, 2016
Asian Arts Initiative
1219 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 557-0455
The last weekend of April was unseasonably cold in Philadelphia, but at the Asian Arts Initiative gallery and performance space it was flamenco hot with Elba Hevia y Vaca’s Pasión y Arte (PyA) performing their third Tablao Philly (April 28-30), this time featuring renowned Spanish dancer Rosario Toledo.

Artistic Director Hevia y Vaca continues to explore the variety of aesthetics within flamenco and showcase its standard bearers and vanguards.

The company’s seasonal tablao has established a wonderful sense of dance occasion, with a jazz club ambience and smartly dressed crowds enjoying wine and tapas while sitting at tables around the dancers and musicians. The artists stayed engaged with the audience throughout and it was a very different experience than watching flamenco on the concert stage.

At the April 30 performance, percussionist Adam Bailey, guitarist Behzad Habidzai and cantaor Hector Jose Marquez took the bandstand cuing Hevia y Vaca and two of her frequent dance partners, Alexa Miton and Xianix Barrera to follow dramatically like a dance invocation (a.k.a. "entrada"). The trio performed a prologue of swirling bodies and lyrical arm (braceo) and hand choreography that heightened the senses, then locked into a fiery unison dance that hypnotized.

The music continued as Miton and Hevia y Vaca moved to the back with the musicians. Barrera performed a marathon solo with gorgeous flamenco classicism fused with her solo artistry and extended the program's first section a half-hour. As volcanic as Barrera can be with flamenco pyrotechnics, her quiet, adagio movement, proved just as thrilling.

In contrast, Hevia y Vaca followed with a soulful solo in which she partnered a beautiful floral shawl with black fringe (manton) in a meditative dance. She swirled it around her body and unfurled it behind her in a sinewy backbend. She caressed it and clutched it around her shoulders and buried her face in its fabric. Her dance was symbolic of loss, grief and survival.

Then finishing the first half of the tablao, Alexa Miton took the floor with her trademark forward leaning pirouettes, sweeping floor movements and epic stare downs with the audience.

All together there was a breathtaking range of flamenco and those transcendent moments which conjured "duende," that synergy between artist and audience.

The program's long intermission was an equally warm communal ritual with audience members discussing the program's first half in AAI’s gallery rooms and lobby.

The program's second half featured the unique flamenco world of soloist Rosario Toledo who entered in a drop-dead red satin floral wraparound covering a stunner midnight blue-black silk dress. Toledo circled the room and intimately eyed the audience. She stepped in an out of her performance character to converse with the audience.

Her first pass (paso), stated her themes both comic and tragic as she fired off foot rhythms a capella. Toledo’s supple backbends with a manton moved to sculpted positions a la Martha Graham. She let out a groan, then grabbed her back and sat on the musician stand and did parodies of flamenco singers and percussionists. “Well, I think they’ll do it better” she assured and summoned the musicians and other dancers.

Toledo then launched into her whimsical dancer concerto, vamping some of the classic moves, plays and then burned the floor with atom-splitting footwork. And of course all of her humor was laced around her luminous presence and impeccable artistry.

It should be noted that Pasión y Arte is an all female dance troupe and their subtext is always about feminist aesthetic, past and present. Hevia y Vaca notes that the flamenco gowns are form fitting and it is a statement by this company that the dancing body beautiful comes in all sizes and it is all about the individual musicality and technical artistry of the dancer.

There is, of course, a whole other article to write about the artistry of the musicians. Singer Marquez’s voice a blend of rich sonority and hoarse intonation (afillá); Habidzai’s vivid guitar lyricism (toque libre) that can shift from scorching rhythm lines to the most soulful ballade in a measure, and percussionist Bailey, on cajon and cymbale, producing an intoxicating rhythmic soundfield.

The summer Tablao Philly runs June 9-11, 2016 at the Asian Arts Initiative. For complete information about upcoming PyA events and artists visit pasionyarteflamenco.org


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