10th Annual New York Flamenco Festival

February 11, 2010

Compañía Rocío Molina, Compañía Israel Galván, and Compañía María Pagés

New York Flamenco Festival

February 11–23, 2010

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Rocío Molina with Eduardo Guerrero in
Oro Viejo. Photo by Luis Castilla, Courtesy WMI.


I happened to be reflecting on the phenomenon that is flamenco-punk Israel Galván when I picked up my copy of the Flamenco Festival’s 10th Anniversary souvenir program. The glossy booklet fell open to a dramatic photo of three dancers who had appeared at the fest’s London performances—men clad in jackets over gowns with swirling ruffled trains.

That’s right: While you weren’t looking, flamenco blew up. Purists probably aren’t delighted by this “big tent” of experimentation but, from the look and sound of World Music Institute’s New York audiences, fervent support exists.

Todo Cambia
(Everything Changes) was the title of this year’s opening City Center gala, a tantalizing appetizer of music, song, and dance. WMI’s curation of artists who gaze back at flamenco’s traditions while dreaming up possibilities made this multi-city festival a fascinating cultural experience.

This year—besides witnessing flamenco singer Marina Heredia’s regal, unforgettable collaboration at Town Hall, with Morocco’s acclaimed Chekara Arab-Andalusian Orchestra of Tetouan—I caught presentations by a few of the festival’s notable dance companies.

The profoundly gifted Rocío Molina—at 25, one of flamenco’s emerging international stars—made her first gala entrance in a remarkable leather get-up of knee-high boots and a form-hugging, short-skirted suit. Her subsequent ownership of the space—with crisp, warrior-like zapateado—argued for her right to wear whatever she pleases. The next night, for the first section of Oro Viejo, her troupe’s U.S. premiere, the diva showed up in black lingerie. Built like a classic Hollywood glamour girl, she revels in this persona; accordingly, her costumers dress her in whatever most favors curves and skin.

Unexpectedly, then, Oro Viejo takes on serious themes of time’s passage and aging. Despite the program description’s heavy concerns, and the even heavier video accompaniment, Molina’s stagecraft itself—concerned with exactingly sculpted, stylized movement details and gestural flourishes—exudes vitality. The soul of flamenco—à la Molina—is more about authority, strength, craftiness, and fun than suffering. Each vignette explores time as the music to which bodies respond obediently, like figurines on a cuckoo clock, or with the juiciest freedom, as when Molina frisks about in a straw hat like a starlet from the Latin tropics. Comic segments are rendered with precise timing and intelligence. Molina spins her dances like short stories covering an array of genres, and Rosario Guerrero “La Tremendita”—of the gruff, keening vocals and irrepressible physicality—grounds the company’s work in beloved gitano tradition.

Flamenco comes from a nomadic people scorned and oppressed in many lands. As such, it might well encompass conventions worth clinging to as well as opportunities to bravely strike out in new directions. While Molina’s Oro Viejo elevates theatrical craft, Israel Galván—aiming to rid flamenco of what he calls “cliché”—strips down both its movement and its atmospherics with searing astringency. He is an acquired taste.

For Galván’s La Edad de Oro (at the NYU Skirball Center), the one obvious nod to tradition is in the modest, earthy presence of the Lagos brothers—singer David and guitarist Alfredo. Otherwise, Galván’s project is post-modern flamenco, flamenco turned on its head. Sitting in near darkness for stretches of time, the soloist periodically explodes onto the loudly-miked floor in odd, fiery movement that might be recognizable to New Yorkers if delivered by the likes of a Jeremy Wade, a Nicholas Leichter, or a Savion Glover on one of his more experimental tears. Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks is, once again, open for business. Galván stretches taut like thick rubber, slaps his body, snaps his fingers, strums his teeth, and emits muffled coughing, hissing sounds last heard issuing forth from the young Robin Williams.

When the shock wears off, you can recognize solid technical training, and detect references to flamenco amid the inflammation. There’s even something flamenco-ish about his extremes of intensity and attitude. La Edad—golden or not—is a long one, with many inserts of this bizarre, precious virtuosity followed by soul-warming musical interludes. I remain unconvinced by Galván but must admit he’s turning heads among observers eager for something different.

—given its New York premiere at City Center by Compañía María Pagés—might not be sufficiently different. Challenged by Mikhail Baryshnikov to create a self-reflective piece, Pagés seems to have missed a chance to set aside cliché-ridden ensembles, flamenco boy toy numbers, and unconvincing love duets, and to drill down to her own gritty, powerful essence. She’s a mature, commanding performer with a mannish countenance and broad shoulders coupled with welcome flashes of girlish effervescence. As a choreographer, though, creating character or giving interesting movements to her highly disciplined dancers does not seem to be her strong suit. That’s OK since, frankly, I’d rather watch Pagés—even when she’s being chased by a flamenco-dancing studio mirror or delivering an obviously rollicking, if untranslated, song. Maybe especially then: Her generous splash of humor might just turn out to be her most innovative gift to flamenco.