If you want to see what it means to dance with joy, I recommend watching El Farruquito tear across the stage. His body pulsates with energy whether he is moving or still. His movements are simultaneously taut and relaxed; you can’t predict where he’ll go next, but when he does go, it seems as if the move were inevitable, both impulsive and utterly natural. He is an inspired dancer; when everything gets going – feet, legs, shoulders, arms, head – you are simply happy to be there.
In his current show, Farruquito, which is touring around the US, he not only dominates the dancing, but also composed the music and wrote the songs. At the end, while the rest of the company gathers at the front of the stage for the traditional “fin de fiesta” solos, he suddenly appears upstage, rapping out rhythms on the cajón. He is flamenco through and through: musician and dancer all in one. Here, he is the center of almost everything – the source of the show’s joy and intensity, but also, inevitably, of its weaknesses.
The anarchic quality of his dancing, so exciting, is reflected in a certain disorderliness of presentation. The stage is crowded with a table, chairs, and speakers; certain ideas are incompletely thought out (like a moment in which an anvil is brought out, but made little use of); and there could be more contrast between numbers. Farruquito himself has a tendency to break character and smile ingratiatingly into the crowd; he doesn’t need to do that to merit their adulation. The amplification is excessive, at times blurring the distinction between voices, rhythm section, and feet. There are a couple of moments in the musical score that come dangerously close to new-agey kitsch (the instrumentation includes flute, electric bass, synthesizer). The lighting is awful. As a show, it’s a bit chaotic, but when things really get moving, you hardly care.
Though he dominates, Farruquito (whose birth name is Juan Manuel Fernández Montoya) is not the only dancer onstage. There are two other men, Juan Antonio Fernández Montoya and Antonio Moreno Fernández, the first of whom is a compact dancer specializing in quick changes of rhythm and syncopation, and the other of whom does an elaborate dance with his cajón. (The cajón is a wooden box used to beat out rhythms.) Each has a solo, and the three of them do a rhythmic number, beating the stage with canes. More impressive is Gema Moneo, a tall, powerful dancer as anarchic and charismatic as Farruquito, with an amazing way of swishing the tail of her long, white bata de cola (flamenco dress), as if it were an extravagant tail. She, too, is an energetic force; it’s especially impressive to see her glide across the stage with her upper body tilted back so far you’re afraid she might tip over. Rising out of her white cloud of a dress, she is a sea nymph, liquid and uncontainably alive. When she whips around forcefully in turns, her hair-pins fly.
A duet between Moneo and Farruquito never quite materializes, which is a shame. But what’s most compelling about the show, really, is its sense of freedom, combined with a strong family-feeling. Farruquito explains in a program note that the show is a kind of tribute to his grandfather and father, El Farruco (dancer) and El Moreno (singer). But by family, I’m referring to something larger: the family-feeling between the performers onstage. Farruquito seems happiest, and most alive, when surrounded by his posse of singers, clappers, and guitarists. In fact, he has a tendency to stride up very close to the singers, as if waiting for the energy of their voices to fill him and then spill over into dance. At one point, he stands between two, Mari Vizarraga and María Mezcle, pivoting toward one, and then the other, as they sing out “por qué tu estás conmigo” (why are you with me). They seem to be battling for his affection, and he turns the full force of his dance-love toward each in turn.
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Fin de fiesta, Flamenco style. That’s Farruquito and his company, at the end of his show at the Town Hall last night. The little guy is Farruquito’s son, Juan “el Moreno,” named after Farruquito’s dad. This is a flamenco family, through and through, and the show reflects this sense of memory, love, and togetherness. Review coming soon.
The evening begins and ends with an appearance by Farruquito’s six-year-old son, Juan (“El Moreno”). He’s the spitting image of his father, down to the elegant, crisp way he uses his hands. After the “fin de fiesta,” he’s carried off on a chair, like a young prince. He’s part of a tradition: Farruquito’s career began the same way, with small appearances in his grandfather’s shows. Who knows, Juan may grow up to be a neuroscientist or an accountant, but whatever he does, he, like his father will still be part of this vibrant flamenco family.