Flamenco Festival USA 2014
Gala Flamenca with Antonio Canales, Carlos Rodríguez, Karime Amaya, Jesus Carmona
New York, City Center
6 March 2014
Marina Harss overview of the Festival in NY Times
The choreographer Mark Morris has said that he decided he wanted to become a dancer when, as a kid, he saw a performance by the flamenco powerhouse José Greco. I could well imagine a boy (or a girl) having a similar reaction after seeing Jesús Carmona dance at the Gala Flamenca on the opening night of the Flamenco Festival here in New York. Explosive and witty footwork intersected with careening spins and unexpected changes of meter and direction. His dancing was full of flash, bluster, and sheer fun. He appears to have everything in excess: energy, charm, rhythmic panache, high spirits, and, when it’s called for, elegance of line. He creates strikingly beautiful shapes with his arms and hands, without ever coming across as preening. And he skirts danger, pushing himself off-balance until you’re sure he’ll lose control. Even when he’s on the sidelines, egging on his fellow dancers, he seems to clap twice as fast, laughing and smiling and spilling over with joy.
Carmona was one of four headliners – along with Antonio Canales, Karime Amaya, and Carlos Rodríguez – to perform at the gala, directed by the choreographer Ángel Rojas. They were backed by an excellent band: three singers (I particularly liked Ismael de la Rosa’s mellow, almost spoken sound), two guitarists (Paco Cruz and Daniel Jurado), and a percussionist (Miguel El Cheyenne). If only the amplification of the voices had not been quite so loud – at times, all nuance was lost and the singing was reduced to a kind of frantic bellowing. A few of the arrangements also included a violin, played by Roman Gottwald; it was surprisingly well integrated, adding a plaintive tone, almost like a whiff of tango. There were also two back-up dancers for the ensemble numbers, Lucía Campillo and Carmen Coy.
Canales, now in his fifties, gave a performance that was one part technique – no-one can stomp with the force of Canales – and three parts personality. He dominated the stage with his solid frame, improbably bronze hair, white shoes, and flashing, trickster eyes. He doesn’t do a zillion pirouettes the way the young guys do – it was a real pirouette-fest tonight – but who cares, Canales knows how to put on a show. Halfway through the evening, he came out in a long knitted cloak, looking like the famous Rodin sculpture of Balzac, and growled out a poem, “Me lo Contaron Ayer,” by Rafael de León. “Te has casado, buena suerte,” he snarled to a former lover: “so you got married – good luck to you.” But remember, “yo soy quien más te ha querido” – no-one has loved you as I have. I doubt the youngsters could have delivered the line with half Canales’s panache.
This ushered in one of the high points of the evening, the only moment the entire ensemble, all the dancers and singers, appeared onstage at once. Canales, the patriarch, danced in the center of the group, entering into a conversation with each of the singers in turn. One of them cried out, “hay duende!” – the spirit is present. Everyone else clapped or played along. One of the most appealing – and unique – aspects of flamenco is that it is a social act as much as an art form. The dancers and musicians perform for each other; the stage becomes a kind of family gathering, and the feeling spills out into the audience. The theatre was full of Spaniards, yelling out “ole” and counting out the music’s complicated meters. Tonight, we were all part of the family.
Carlos Rodríguez, a more classically-trained dancer who performed with the Ballet Teatro Español before starting Nuevo Ballet Español with Ángel Rojas, did a highly-choreographed soleá por bulerías (mid-tempo, serious, but not too serious). His dancing is super-polished and clean, with perhaps the fastest and most precise zapateado of the night. His gestures are stylized, and he does a mean multiple pirouette. But his dancing lacks excitement or build, and the emotions – scowling looks, hand to brow – seem put on rather than organic. His dancing, though impressive, comes across as a series of effects.
As the only featured woman in the show, it fell to Karime Amaya to provide the requisite note of seriousness and introspection to the evening. She danced the closing siguiriya in a gorgeous, close-fitting black dress decorated with giant appliquéd flowers. She is a tall, imposing figure with sculptural arms and a stern, face that makes her look older than her twenty-nine years. Her background is gypsy – in fact, she is the grand-niece of Carmen Amaya, a flamenco legend. Amaya dances like someone not to be trifled with; her footwork is powerful, almost masculine in its force. Her twisting turns, quebradas, are fast and sharp. Her siguiriya took time to build and was not as searing as some – it didn’t come close to one of Soledad Barrios’s solos – but it had a kind of contained, austere beauty. I suspect she’s capable of more.
In any case, the night belonged to the boys: Canales the veteran showman and Carmona the irrepressible scamp. I wouldn’t be surprised if he came back with a show of his own one of these days.
You can see Carmona in an Alegrías here.