The southern Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera is known as the birthplace of sherry and quite possibly the birthplace of flamenco (a title that Seville disputes). Flamenco’s roots run deep in Jerez, and its tradition impregnates the city’s beautiful cobbled streets and plazas and tiled Andalusian patios. To celebrate this artistic heritage, the city hosts a yearly, 16-day festival that brings both intimate and large-scale flamenco to several of the city’s venues, from theaters to wineries to the local palace. Flamenco enthusiasts from around the world descend upon the city to take classes with famous flamencos by day and watch magnificent performances by night.
The 2009 edition opened with the world premiere of Eva Yerbabuena’s seventh production, Lluvia (Rain), which examines the themes of solitude, melancholy, and falling out of love.
Lluvia starts out a little rocky, with a lot of rolling around on the floor, followed by just a few too many campy, agonized facial expressions. But just as the piece is about to wander into a melodramatic no man’s land, Yerbabuena pulls it back, introducing a beautifully trained company of dancers and highly original choreography that saves Lluvia from what could have been a dour theatrical downpour.
María Pagés’ Autorretrato (Self-Portrait) was born of Mikhail Baryshnikov's suggestion that she create a dance showing who she is as a person, a dancer, and a creator. Unfortunately, this blend of old and new works is far from one of her better productions. Two of its stronger numbers were older pieces, Ergo uma rosa, danced to José Saramago’s recitation of his poem of the same name, and Miguel Hernandez’s Nana de la cebolla. Páges also introduced a charming and intimate piece in which she dances with her own reflection. Yet as sturdy as these dances are, they couldn’t distract us from weaker, less interesting work and a poorly used company that served only to warm up the audience before Páges’ own entrances.
Isabel Bayón combined live and recorded music, film, and dance in Tórtola Valencia, inspired by the early 20th-century Spanish dancer and actress who garnered international success as a femme fatal, only to fade into obscurity. Bayón, the production’s sole dancer, infuses Valencia’s character with a tempting sensuality and mystery as she recounts her life story. But not delving any deeper, she limits the work’s tonal and emotive possibilities. Tórtola Valencia’s most successful quality is Antonio Alamo’s dramaturgy, which stimulates our curiosity and invests us emotionally and intellectually in this biographical study.
One of the festival’s most unforgettable performances was 25-year-old dancer/choreographer Rocío Molina’s Oro viejo (Old Gold). The work explores the popular culture of Spain’s elderly in their youth and how the pace of life changes with age. This theme generated a collection of playful, even comical passages that involve music and dance from the first half of the 20th century; these pieces, like the generation they represent, take their time to unravel, moving with grace and delicacy.
Carmen Cortés’ Mujeres de Lorca (Lorca’s Women) is a flawless production that, after spending three years on the shelf, was brought back for this year’s festival. The performance combines scenes from six of Spanish writer and poet Federico Garcia Lorca’s plays that are danced by an all-female cast. Tomás Afán Muñoz’s dramaturgy is astounding, producing a clear and educated interpretation of Lorca’s plays and successfully linking the flamenco aesthetic with the intuitive nature of Lorca’s writing. However, Cortés’ exceptional choreography is the work’s driving force, delivering a raw emotionality that makes dialogue unnecessary.
The festival closed with an homage to the recently deceased flamenco legend Mario Maya, featuring 10 of his works. Everyone participating in the production worked with Maya prior to his passing, including his daughter Belén, who not only dances the gorgeous Taranto solo, but also acts as the show’s artistic director. Although the dancing is top-notch and the choreography will live on in the annals of flamenco history, most of the pieces lacked a luster that only Maya could produce when dancing his creations. Although imperfect for reasons beyond anyone’s control, the homage was a perfect send off both to the festival and the man.
Mention "flamenco" to anyone in the Cuban dance scene, and they are likely to bring up Irene Rodríguez. Artistic director of Compañía Irene Rodríguez, Cuba's premiere flamenco company, Rodríguez has shared the stage with such renowned flamenco artists as Eva Yerbabuena, María Juncal and Antonio Gades. She is also a faculty member at Havana's Fernando Alonso National Ballet School, and has served as a choreography consultant at Ballet Nacional de Cuba.
Irina Kolpakova in the studio with Katherine Williams. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.
Being coached by a treasure like former Kirov prima Irina Kolpakova is an experience most dancers only dream of. But company members at American Ballet Theatre have been the lucky beneficiaries of her wisdom since 1990. Thanks to Instagram, where pros like Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside share snippets of their sessions with Kolpakova, any ballet lover can be a fly on the wall during rehearsals with the famed ballet mistress.