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From Andalucia to Orange County: The New World Flamenco Festival - "Jerez, Puro"

by Rachel Levin
August 9, 2003

From Andalucia to Orange County: The New World Flamenco Festival - "Jerez, Puro"

Rachel Levin
August 9, 2003

When I was growing up in Orange County, California, a frequent response I got when I told people where I was from was, "Oh, you're from behind the Orange Curtain."
For most of my life, this large pocket of land sandwiched between liberal Los Angeles to the north and multicultural San Diego to the south was known as a cultural vacuum of sorts: a place where homogenous tract homes in various shades of beige stretched as far as the eye could see, and an equally homogenous population meant that the area was largely devoid of multicultural opportunities.

Who knew that this so-called culturally challenged county would be the setting for one of the world's only flamenco festivals outside of Spain?

The truth is that the New World Flamenco Festival, running August 3 to 18 at various venues around Orange County, is just one of the more spectacular examples of Orange County's maturation as not just cultural center, but national arbiter of taste and style. On the pop culture tip, Orange County, or "O.C." as natives call it, has spawned bands like No Doubt, surf- and skatewear brands like Quicksilver, fashion designers like Paul Frank, and now a new T.V. series on the Fox network, appropriately titled "The O.C."

But high culture enthusiasts are now finding Orange County to be an unavoidable stop for unique dance, art, and theatre. In addition to the Irvine Barclay Theatre at the University of California, Irvine, where most of the New World Flamenco Festival performances are being held, Orange County boasts its own eponymous Performing Arts Center, theatre and art villages in Laguna Beach and Santa Ana, and a new 2,000-seat symphony hall being built in Costa Mesa.

For three years now, this once-bland locale has been suffused with the energy and sound of southern Spain, a crossroads of European and North African cultures. The New World Flamenco Festival has played to capacity audiences-40% coming from outside Orange County-and adds more events each year. This year's highlights include four shows at the Barclay Theatre showcasing different masters of flamenco, both traditional and contemporary, from around the world; a screening of the flamenco-inspired film, Vengo; master dance, singing, and guitar classes open to the public; and children's classes for young bailaores.

I drove down from Los Angeles on Friday night to see the show "Jerez, Puro," featuring flamenco style from the town of Jerez de la Frontera in the Andalucia region of southern Spain, considered to be the cradle of flamenco. I found Orange County, on this jewel of an August evening, to be equally bustling with color and culture.

As I entered the U.C. Irvine campus, it was swimming with dance, music, and movement. The National Spirit Association was holding their annual training convention on campus, and hundreds of cheerleaders in bright uniforms and bow-tied ponytails romped on the green. They danced with megawatt smiles and pranced in and out of intricate formations.

The sounds of their spirited cheers died away as I approached the theatre. The entrance was awash in black and red, the romantic, trademark colors of flamenco. A sign projected on the wall announced that this was no longer just the Barclay, but rather the "Barclay Olé!" Café Tu Tu Tango sold tapas and sangría. Women were decked out in black outfits with accents of red, embroidered shawls, and dramatic roses in their hair.

The ensemble of dancers, musicians, and singers started the show by entering not from backstage, but rather from the same doors the patrons walked through to take their seats. Right from the start, then, the performers engaged the audience with the sounds of bellowing voices and ceaseless clapping. The opening ensemble number gave just a taste of what was to come, with brief introductory dances by Andrés Peña, María del Mar Moreno, and Ana María Blanco.

After the initial clamor of the opening number, the stage was bare save for a single guitarist and singer Macarena Moneo, seated under a solitary light. The opening chords of the guitar struck me so deeply. The melancholy melody transported me back to, of all places, Berkeley, where I lived for a year in a shared six bedroom house; one of my housemates, Dan, was an aspiring flamenco guitarist. He wore his fingernails long (for plucking) and his brown, wavy hair longer. On cool, foggy midnights, Dan would sometimes keep me awake with his delicate, weeping chords. On weekends, he would invite lithe, young flamenco dance students to practice with him on the ample linoleum of our kitchen floor. The whole house would shake with the girls' furious tapping. Hours later, the two would emerge from behind closed doors, exhausted and rosy. The piercing voice of Moneo brought me back to the present, but the memory of Dan helped remind me that flamenco is at once painful lament, sensual invitation, and passionate release. Moneo seemed to sing as the spirit of these various emotions moved her.

In muted costumes of black and deep purple, the two female dancers showcased slightly different styles. Blanco danced with a serious face, graceful hands, and rigorous feet. She displayed an irresistible attitude of confidence, as if she was one-upping a group of peers or male suitors. Her performances were punctuated by dramatic stops and starts. Moreno, on the other hand, displayed a more fluid and graceful style. She often had a smile of mischief and pleasure on her face.

While the sheer energy of both women's legs was concealed beneath flowing skirts, Peña's performance showcased the athleticism of the dance. His robust legwork (not to mention show-stopping good looks) stole the show.

The finale was like the end of a fireworks display: bursts of color and movement all at once. Moneo wore a cream dress with a coral shawl; Moreno put on a bright green shawl. Blanco, Moreno, and Peña danced in rapid succession, and all ended with smiles.

If you can venture to my humble home of Orange County, it's not too late to catch some of the remaining events. You'll get to see both Spanish dancers and Orange County itself sweeping their skirts (or orange curtain, as the case may be) to the side and showing off in dazzling form.

August 8-10 Jerez, Puro
August 12-13 Israel Galván and Company
August 15-17 Ballet Flamenco de Antonio Canales

Festival Workshops-Dance:
August 10 Andrés Peña
August 13-14 Israel Galván
August 16-18 Antonio Canales

Festival Workshops-Music:
August 10 Guitar Master Class, Flamenco Percussion for Kids [6-9], Intro to Flamenco for Kids [9-12]
August 14 Guitar Master Class 2

For ticket information, call 949-854-4646

New World Flamenco Festival 2003 - Adelaida
Photo courtesy of Adelaida

New World Flamenco Festival 2003 - Israel Galvan
Photo courtesy of Israel Galvan

New World Flamenco Festival 2003 - Yaelisa
Photo courtesy of Yaelisa

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