La Tania Baile Flamenco
Esencia and Despertar es un Color (Essence and Awakening is a Color)
San Francisco, Cowell Theater
22 April 2012
Last October after a hiatus of over two years, flamenco dancer La Tania took to the stage again in the Friday Nights at the de Young Museum series. In an evening of Spanish-themed music and dance to accompany the then-current exhibit of Balenciaga, couturier extraordinaire, her artistry was a beautiful fit. Six months later she was back in full force with an entire evening’s show at the sold-out Cowell Theater.
Esencia, making up the first half of the program, is devoted mostly to solos danced by La Tania, Gina Giammanco and Sandra Gabas and also features solo singers Felix de Lola and Kina Mendez with guitarist Roberto Aguilar. The performers make their way through a series of traditional flamenco forms. Martinete, a trio choreographed and danced by the three women, serves to introduce them. Then follows Alegrías for Gabas, de Lola in Sólo de Cante-Tangos, Soleá por Bulerías with Giammanco, Sólo de Cante-Tientos sung by Mendez and concluding with La Tania in Soleares.
All these artists are extremely good. Gabas has a sharp edge and fiercely precise footwork. In contrast, Giammanco is more sensual and dramatically expressive. Mendez and de Lola both have emotive power and Aguilar responds sensitively in the interplay with both singers and dancers. But it is La Tania who dominates. If I rave too much, I may lose all credibility, but this dancer is absolutely phenomenal, and her total impact nearly defies description. Her port de bras (carriage of the arms) is more fluidly eloquent than most ballerinas in swan roles and she certainly has the charisma of but a handful of stage performers.
The second half of the evening consists of a suite of dances, Despertar es Un Color, choreographed by La Tania, and reveals her as more than a great dancer. She takes the elements of traditional flamenco and uses them as a palette to paint her own vision of how flamenco can evolve. She uses groups of dancers in much the same way as is done in ballet and modern dance – not all the dancers working in unison facing the audience, but using them to create designs in space. Violinist Tregar Otton joins the musicians adding a new dimension to the sound and lighting designer Matthew Antaky highlights the dancers with a subtle touch.
Despertar (Awakening) for five women shows some impressive handling of the ruffled trains on the dresses (bata de cola). The dancers are more adept than others I’ve seen in gently kicking them out of the way, almost like animals flicking their tails. Tierra (Earth) with Gabas, Giammanco and Lea Kobeli shows both how well they work together and yet maintain their own individuality.
But it is Alas al Viento (Wings to the Wind) that is unforgettable. The lights come up on La Tania dressed in white, seated in profile on a chair. She doesn’t even need to move, she already emanates an expectant air that instantly commands your attention. Slowly she begins to move one arm, then the other. Like an undulating cobra she hypnotises you into submission. She unwinds her shawl and as she turns it wafts around her, then she is twirling it like a lariat, fringe flying and just maybe she will take off into the air. Her radiant face changes expression as she discovers new ways to play with the shapes the shawl can make, as well as the possibilities of her train. Even the elegance with which she scoops it up to better show her footwork is exquisite.
The final Colores (Colors) for the entire company is the last reminder that while all the artists are excellent, La Tania is matchless. She is the only flamenco dancer I have seen that effects me as intensely as does the brilliant Eva Yerbabuena. Ultimately, the most important point, as with any art form, is whether you are moved. And I am, very deeply, by this truly gifted performer.
La Tania will be performing at the Ethnic Dance Festival, June 16 at 3 pm and 8pm and June 17 at 3 pm at the Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.