With a contemporary air that exalts—rather than obscures—flamenco tradition, and a technique and stamina that boggle the mind, Eduardo Guerrero's professional trajectory has done nothing but skyrocket since being named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" earlier this year. His 2017 solo Guerrero has toured widely, and he has created premieres for the Jerez Festival (Faro) and the 2018 Seville Flamenco Biennial (Sombra Efímera). In the midst of his seemingly unstoppable ascension, he's created Gaditanía, his first work utilizing a corps de ballet. Guerrero is currently touring the U.S. with this homage to Cadiz, the city of his birth.
Flamenco dancer and choreographer Rocío Molina created her first full-length production, Entre paredes ("Between Walls"), at the age of 22. At 26, the prodigy received Spain's National Dance Prize, the most coveted dance award in Spain. Now 34, her rupture with tradition makes her no stranger to controversy. But it, and her fiercely personal and contemporary style, means that each new project is a fascinating voyage.
Molina is the subject of French filmmaker Emilio Belmonte's first feature length documentary, IMPULSO. The film, which makes its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York City's Film Forum on October 17, follows Molina for two years as she tours Europe presenting a series of improvised works. These improvisations ultimately inspired the creation of one of Molina's masterworks, Caída de Cielo ("Fallen from Heaven"), which premiered in 2016.
Eduardo Guerrero is flamenco in its richest current incarnation. The Cádiz-born 34-year-old crafted a solid career in the companies of some of Spain's most important dancers, including Eva Yerbabuena, Antonio Canales and Rocío Molina. However, his two solo shows, El callejón de los pecados ("Sin Alley") and Guerrero ("Warrior"), are what have brought Guerrero to the forefront of flamenco dance in Spain.
The latter production received the Audience Award at the 2017 Jerez Festival due in large part to Guerrero's astonishing endurance: Dancing for nearly an hour and a half straight, pausing only to change costumes (sometimes onstage), Guerrero tells the captivating story of his relationship with women. The archetypal roles of the mother, the lover and the friend, performed by three female singers, all demand a different emotional and physical response, allowing Guerrero to display a breathtaking array of movement that often pushes him to the perilous limits of human motion.
Rocío Molina has forged a style of flamenco that can’t be defined.
Molina performing at the Jerez Festival. PC Javier Fergo, Courtesy Molina.
Ten years ago, dancer and choreographer Rocío Molina premiered her first full-length production, El Eterno Retorno, at the Jerez Festival for flamenco in Spain. She was just 21 years old. Four years later she was awarded the highest honor a Spanish dancer can receive—the Ministry of Culture’s National Dance Award. Many thought her too young to receive an award meant to reflect a lifetime of achievement. But whether the prize propelled her or predicted her future, Molina’s rise has been meteoric ever since.
Long before the accolades, Molina was considered a flamenco wunderkind. Thanks to YouTube, anyone can see her dance a caña on regional Andalusian television at age 11. At 15, she left her hometown in Málaga to study in Madrid, joining the María Pagés Company during her last year of school and leaving to start her own company two years later.
Although she is technically astounding and endowed with as much power as any of her more conventional colleagues, Molina has never been what you would call a traditional flamenco dancer. Convention does not suit Molina, who has managed to create a choreographic language entirely her own. She’s famous for restricting her clean footwork to smaller and smaller spaces, most recently dancing on a single floor tile. She at times seems to deconstruct her body and reconstruct it in beautifully disjointed ways: a pointed foot, a lifted knee touching a bent elbow, a limp hand swinging on a smoothly rotating arm. She’s done away with colorful traditional flamenco clothing, opting to wear black spandex leggings and tops, a choice inspired by her enjoyment of watching flesh move.
Not being born into a flamenco family meant that Molina was never told how she should dance. “That gave me a lot of freedom,” she says. “I had to imagine the music and the dance because I didn’t get to see a lot of flamenco. That made me very creative.” Molina’s mother studied ballet in Brussels, but was unable to pursue her dream of dancing professionally upon her return to Spain. Instead, she trained her daughter in ballet from an early age, an experience Molina loved due to the discipline it required.
Molina’s individuality has made her a sensation that the media is intent on intellectualizing. The myth that she is inspired by Nietzsche has circulated incessantly in the media, and even appears on her Wikipedia page. She laughs at the mention of it, saying, “I never said that; it was said for me. I was 20 and carried around Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but I didn’t understand it.”
Foreign critics sometimes confuse Molina’s organic artistic process with aspirations to somehow legitimize flamenco by fusing it with other styles. Although writers draw parallels between Molina and Pina Bausch, which she finds tremendously flattering, she insists “I’ve never created anything with the goal of being contemporary. I could never perform contemporary dance because I’ve never studied it.”
There’s also a tendency to depict her as a polarizing force. Though there may be detractors who claim that what Molina dances is not “real” flamenco, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think she’s an exceptional dancer. “I’ve really never felt hated,” she says. “I’ve always been very loved, even by flamenco traditionalists.”
Matthew Poppe's discovery of dance was ordinary: He shuffled and shimmied his way through jazz and tap classes before falling for ballet at 11 years old, gained admission to the School of American Ballet, and after three years of training there, returned to his home state to perform with Ballet Arizona. He danced with the company for just one season before joining Boston Ballet II, ultimately joining the Boston Ballet corps two years later. But now, dancing on pointe for New York's Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, his career has become anything but conventional.
Poppe's time with Boston Ballet gave him a taste of what it was like working for a traditional ballet company, while allowing him the freedom to explore an alternative artistic outlet. “There was a great group of people there that I really connected with," remembers Poppe. At the time, James Whiteside—now a principal with American Ballet Theatre—was a principal at Boston Ballet. Poppe, Whiteside and Whiteside's long-term boyfriend, Dan Donigan, began performing drag together. “We have a group called the Dairy Queens because James' partner's drag name is Milk, and since I see him as my drag mentor, I named myself Skim," Poppe says. Whiteside's drag name is Ühu (pronounced yoo-hoo).
Compañía Nacional de Danza
February 17–26, 2010
Reviewed by Justine Bayod Espoz
Nacho Duato's Jardín Infinito. Photo by Fernando Marcos, Courtesy CND.
In June Nacho Duato will celebrate 20 years as director of Spain’s Compañia Nacional de Danza. But the company's recent Madrid appearances—with a program of Duato's Rassemblement (French for “gathering”) and the world premiere of his homage to Chekhov, Jardín Infinito (Infinite Garden)—did little to generate excitement for that landmark.
Rassemblement, originally made for Cullberg Ballet in 1991, explores the culture and history of Haiti; presumably it was resuscitated because of the recent catastrophe on the island nation. Despite its publicized description as a “moving appeal to the audience’s conscience regarding matters of human rights,” the piece does little to incite any kind of emotional response.
Four couples dance in faded costumes, which blend into a faded cloth background, illuminated by faded lights—a drab motif that sets a relentlessly dark, brooding mood. Even the elements of tribal dance mixed into the contemporary choreography did not suffice to give Rassemblement a bit of life.
The exquisite, lively music by Haitian singer Toto Bissainthe was wasted on this grim spectacle. Although ostensibly addressing vodun worship and the despair caused by exile from Africa, the piece shows no evidence of either theme. The reference to slavery is clear: a puerile display of two colonizers—easily discernable by their long-sleeved white shirts, navy blue trousers, and black boots—dragging the limp, bare-chested principal dancer into an imprisoning shaft of light from which he eventually escapes.
With charged themes like slavery, suffering, and freedom, it’s hard to understand how Duato could choreograph such a lackluster piece with no choreographic crescendo to accompany Bissainthe singing with all her might, “liberty, liberty, liberty.” (As a side note, it’s a little difficult to take seriously a work about Haiti and slavery in the West Indies when there isn’t a single black dancer onstage.)
Despite the disappointing first half, which left a noticeable number of empty orchestra seats, nothing could prepare the audience for the interminable Jardín Infinito, a performance created in collaboration with the Chekhov International Theatre Festival to commemorate 150 years since the playwright’s birth.
By Duato’s own admission, this abstract piece is not based specifically on any of Chekhov’s works or life anecdotes but rather a personal vision—so personal that there remains nothing linking the piece to the man it supposedly honors. The recitation from Chekhov’s notebooks included in the soundtrack might have helped, had it not been in Russian.
The work comprises several short episodes that have no real connection to one another, aside from the reappearance of a man in a white suit. His sole purpose, it seems, is to present a contrast with the other dancers (clad in grey and black against a grey and black background) and dance odd, jerky solos that are nothing short of clownish.
Jardín Infinito was more demonstrative of the spot-on timing and intuitive connection between CND’s dancers than of Duato’s choreographic or narrative prowess. Although the dancers did their best with what they were given, the public exited in droves before the closing curtain touched the stage.
Teatros del Canal
December 2, 2009–January 10, 2010
Reviewed by Justine Bayod Espoz
Photo by Max Pucciarello, courtesy MOMIX.
Anyone familiar with MOMIX knows that what happens on stage is more about the surrealist imagery than the dancers and choreography. The sleekness of the big picture is what seems to matter here, and one walks in aware that MOMIX is more a performance company than a dance troupe. However, even when knowing what to expect, Bothanica—the company’s newest work of physical and visual illusion—is still disappointing.
Yes, the costumes are minimalist but beautiful, the lighting is superb, and some of the visual effects created with nothing more than long, limber bodies can spark a viewer’s interest. But for the most part, Bothanica’s four scenes—winter, spring, summer, and fall—amount to a production that doesn’t illicit any kind of excitement. Slow morphing plants and animals become particularly soporific when accompanied by a low-key soundtrack that lends nothing more than background noise to an otherwise unnecessarily silent world.
Much like the throngs of children seated around me, I quite enjoyed the show’s inclusion of puppetry, as a large triceratops skeleton, manipulated by a single man, carried a female dancer onstage. And the dervish style of twirling, performed by another female dancer equipped with a hoop from which strands of beads radiated and undulated depending on the positioning of her upper body, was enchanting. However, I found myself in many instances feeling as though I were watching a show created for audiences aged 10 and under, especially when the lights went out and the neon gloves and socks went on, leading to the irrelevant formation of such inane images as a giant smiley face.
I found myself quickly growing impatient with the hackneyed scenes of prancing bees, cutesy peek-a-boo flowers, and swaying trees. The few existing dance phrases were so weak that they seemed thrown in at the last minute. Even if Spanish audiences could overlook all of these weaknesses, there was no way to ignore Bothanica’s biggest flaw: the lack of synchronicity amongst the male dancers and a couple of the female dancers. For a world-renowned, professional company that charges big ticket prices, this kind of sloppiness is unforgivable.
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Teatros del Canal
December 2, 2009â€“January 10, 2010
Reviewed by Justine Bayod Espoz
Photo by Max Pucciarello, courtesy MOMIX.
Anyone familiar with MOMIX knows that what happens on stage is more about the surrealist imagery than the dancers and choreography. The sleekness of the big picture is what seems to matter here, and one walks in aware that MOMIX is more a performance company than a dance troupe. However, even when knowing what to expect, "Bothanica"â€”the companyâ€™s newest work of physical and visual illusionâ€”is still disappointing.
Yes, the costumes are minimalist but beautiful, the lighting is superb, and some of the visual effects created with nothing more than long, limber bodies can spark a viewerâ€™s interest. But for the most part, "Bothanica"â€™s four scenesâ€”winter, spring, summer, and fallâ€”amount to a production that doesnâ€™t illicit any kind of excitement. Slow morphing plants and animals become particularly soporific when accompanied by a low-key soundtrack that lends nothing more than background noise to an otherwise unnecessarily silent world.
Much like the throngs of children seated around me, I quite enjoyed the showâ€™s inclusion of puppetry, as a large triceratops skeleton, manipulated by a single man, carried a female dancer onstage. And the dervish style of twirling, performed by another female dancer equipped with a hoop from which strands of beads radiated and undulated depending on the positioning of her upper body, was enchanting. However, I found myself in many instances feeling as though I were watching a show created for audiences aged 10 and under, especially when the lights went out and the neon gloves and socks went on, leading to the irrelevant formation of such inane images as a giant smiley face.
I found myself quickly growing impatient with the hackneyed scenes of prancing bees, cutesy peek-a-boo flowers, and swaying trees. The few existing dance phrases were so weak that they seemed thrown in at the last minute. Even if Spanish audiences could overlook all of these weaknesses, there was no way to ignore "Bothanica"â€™s biggest flaw: the lack of synchronicity amongst the male dancers and a couple of the female dancers. For a world-renowned, professional company that charges big ticket prices, this kind of sloppiness is unforgivable.
Jerez Flamenco Festival
February 27–March 14, 2009
Reviewed by Justine
Carmen Cortés in her Mujeres de Lorca (Lorca's women). Photo by Javier Fernández, courtesy Festival de Jerez.
For a video from the festival, click here.
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.
Nuevo Ballet Español
Baile de Máscaras
Teatro Albeniz, Madrid, Spain
November 19–30, 2008
Justine Bayod Espoz
Photo by Álvaro Villarrubia,
Courtesy Nuevo Ballet Español.
Carlos Rodriguez as Francisco
Goya and Angel Rojas as King Ferdinand.
Every once in a while a dance performance so unique comes along that critics and audience members alike relinquish all peevish doubt and surrender to the work’s creative lure. The Nuevo Ballet Español’s most recent creation, Baile de Máscaras (Masked Ball), is just such a piece.
Creating a historical and narrative dance piece seems like a monumentally bad idea, as proven by the Spanish National Ballet’s 2008 flop The Green Stone Heart. Yet NBE’s founders/choreographers/artistic directors/principal dancers, Angel Rojas and Carlos Rodriguez, made it a winning combination by weaving an intricate web of narration, music, classical dance and flamenco.
Baile de Máscaras was initially commissioned by the City of Mostoles, a commuter city on the outskirts of Madrid where NBE is based. It commemorates the 200th anniversary of May 2, 1808, when the people of Mostoles and Madrid staged an uprising against the French occupying troops, an act of rebellion that eventually led to the Spanish War of Independence.
The narrator, a present-day asylum patient, scribbles manically in a notebook as he enters room 1808 while describing scenes of war and terror and introducing the story’s principal players. Napoleon, danced by guest performers Daniel Doña and Rafael Rivero, is made a formal, commanding and foreign figure by dancing only classical ballet. Angel Rojas portrays King Ferdinand VII of Spain, dubbed the “traitor king” after the war for nullifying the first Spanish constitution (a result of Spain’s victory over France). A clownish character, he oscillates between classical dance and flamenco, as Napoleon shackles him and takes him to France, leaving the Spanish people to fend for themselves.
Carlos Rodriguez plays Francisco Goya, the painter famous for capturing the battles and public executions of the War of Independence on canvas. He is the modern world’s link to the true protagonists of both the dance and the history it represents––the Spanish people.
NBE’s dancers shine brighter in this piece than in any prior. Their dramatic skills are put to the test as they tackle a wide spectrum of emotions. Their vibrant flamenco choreographies powerfully remind viewers not only of the repression and loss suffered by the Spanish people during the Napoleonic invasion, but also of their bravery and determination.
Although Baile de Máscaras was made for Spanish audiences and has, until now, only been performed in Spain, it is clear, emotive, and engaging enough to appeal to audiences around the world. Here’s hoping NBE has the opportunity to prove this last statement true.