Small detour from talking about ladies today folks. I’ve been asked by the Philadelphia Flamenco Festival and Pasión y Arte to write about this film “Flamenco Hoy.” Check out their other articles here.
My first encounter with Flamenco as an art form came back in 2008 when I was creating and staging Echo – an entirely musical retelling of the classic Greek myth – with local company Tribe of Fools.
For the piece I was exploring sounds that fell into a few categories. I wanted music that blurred the line between declamation and structure – sounds that blurred the difference between structure music and the noise a person screaming to the Gods above them. I was seeking the heightened sound that such a plea would provoke but also a form in which the musicality, the beauty, and the depth of that need to express were also heard.
I also wanted a music rooted in chant. I wanted to underscore the feeling of storytelling that is passed along from person to person over many many many generations.
And lastly, I wanted a musical base in which feminine beauty is can be seen not only in the light pure and clear sounds we hear in most western music forms, but that includes the depth and experience and texture that life can bring. And I wanted to find a sound that came from a human but was so deep and richly felt that person it goes beyond their human form. I wanted to hear the sound of a human channeling the Gods.
So when a friend passed along a video of Carlos Saura’s 1995 movie Flamenco and I heard this woman for the first time I had no doubt I’d found that sound.
What a treat then to be asked to return to Mr. Saura’s work for Flamenco Hoy in watching this filming of a live stage piece exploring Flamenco both past and present.
There’s something pulsing underneath the work on display in this film. It’s akin to the gentle clapping pulse that underpins so much of the music. The performers of Flamenco Hoy are a study in tension and release:
Two men carrying large sticks drum the floor in alternating bursts, each like a tiny message or challenge that builds. The energy of the face off is palpable. And then, simply, easily, they step forward, closer into waiting pools of light and begin again.
A woman (the stunning Patricia Guerrero) bounds across the stage bending in impossibly long lines. She is holding a fan that snaps open and shut like a tease between her and the audience. She is fluid and graceful one moment with fingers that flutter over each other. The next she squats and jumps like a rebellious teenager.
This alternation of hardness and softness is what makes the form so interesting for me to watch. It is this inherent conversation between rhythms that that creates stories between bodies and within voices even when they speak words I cannot understand.
And the pounding of the floor. Can I just say that it must be impossible to hear it too much. I am most sad, perhaps, not to be in the room with this performance in this regard. To feel the vibration of the floor under my own feet, to feel the rapid pulsing vibration of their feet beating into the ground and resonating through the hall and in my bones.
In what was for me the most stunning solo of the entire piece, Nani Paños (who looks charmingly similar to Zachary Quinto and had me imagining Spock as a Flamenco dancer) emerges in a modified, almost painted on, Torero outfit. The tightness of his clothing means that every quiver, every breath, every twitch is visible to the audience. The guitarist plucks out a melody that almost seems designed to taunt the poor, serious looking, dancer. He slowly begins to gently move himself across the stage. Then suddenly without warning the music seems to capture him and his feet explode. He wildly shakes in the throws of it until again without warning he is completely still but for the deep need for breath he is clearly trying to hide.
The effect is one of a human battling with supernatural forces. And this battle of the dancer and this tension between stillness and a need to fling the movement out of himself is completely engrossing from start to end.
And there’s also something captivating about the way that the staging often does not attempt to integrate the disparate parts – the singers, musicians, dancers, and those that simply take up the subtle punctuation of palmas hand claps. It is refreshingly simple to see one part of the whole watch and enjoy the other when a dancer simply listens in to the free flowing cascade of notes from a singer. It is almost as if the whole cannot be contained by any single of its component pieces.
The only admission I must make is that in the pieces where more modern elements are incorporated – projections of lines across the stage as a group of men with pained faces dance, or a nod to 1940’s noir, or a mix of jazz saxophone and the lilting rhythms of a flamenco singer – for me, they fall flat by comparison. I see the interest and desire for such an experiment. But they lose just a touch of what makes the other pieces so magical. The ease and depth and plea to the gods in these pieces, somehow gets a just little lost in translation.