Posts Tagged ‘Flamenco’

A Masterwork by Israel Galván

Friday, January 4th, 2013

By Rachel Straus

Israel Galván in "Lo Real"

The most indelible dance production of the year, for this writer, was the world premiere of Lo Real/Le Réel/The Real. Conceived by the flamenco dancer-choreographer Israel Galván, and seen December 22 at Madrid’s prestigious Teatro Real, Lo Real’s subject is the Nazi’s genocide of the Roman and Sinti people (otherwise known as the gypsies). This intermission-less, two hour and ten minute production is nothing but ambitious. But in the hands of the 39-year-old Galván, Lo Real neither traffics in sentimentalism nor graphic violence. Instead the work reads like a metaphysical inquiry, an exploration into the fundamental nature of being in the world.

Consider this scene. Galván hammers an old upright piano apart with his sputtering footwork. In doing so, he destroys the harmonic integrity of the instrument. When he forces the piano apart, we hear its strings shrieking as they stretch. We see Galván in a deep lunge with his muscular arms working to push the battered object to its breaking point. But the piano doesn’t dissemble. Instead its strings, like Galván’s wiry body, produce a shrill, taut dissonance, one that is awe-inspiring in its intensity. At this moment, the image of the persecuted gypsy becomes real: Galván, stripped of his shirt, dances while caught in a barbed wire fence. His angular, contorted gestures and his sharp, hard footwork eviscerate him as they reveal the unique quality of his dancing, which bends the tradition of the Seville school of flamenco beyond recognition.

Photo by Daniel Munoz

The title of Galván’s production is key to understanding the choreographer’s perspective. Lo Real/Le Réel/The Real isn’t some semantic word play favored by choreographers wishing to seem intellectual. It’s a functional title. By inscribing the same word in Spanish, French, and English, Galván alludes to the foremost countries (Spain, France, the U.S and UK) that have consistently embraced Galván’s artistry. The title also pays homage to Jacques Lacan’s theory of The Real, which states how the real is that which is authentic and absolute.

Death, Galván has alluded in interviews, is his Real. And in his production, directed by Pedro G. Romero and Txiki Berraondo, it is treated through a reel of distinct images and scenes. Some are comedic: The Nazi film director Leni Riefenstahl appears as a vamp in a red tuxedo-style corset who straddles an old-fashioned lighting stand, thanks to dancer Isabel Bayón’s frighteningly certain performance. Some of Lo Real’s images are tragic: In the finale of Belén Maya’s solo, she cannot stand. Nonetheless, Maya performs her rhythmic footwork while lurching forward to the lip of the stage on her forearms.

Isabel Bayón and Israel Galván in "Lo Real"

Almost all of the spectacular performers, including singers David Lagos and Tomás de Perrate, guitarists Chicuelo and Caracafé, violinist Eloísa Cantón, drummer Bobote and dancing wife Uchi, emerge from the recesses of the vast stage like specters. Either alone or in pairs, they perform transcendent defiances against the inevitability of death, through their song and dance.

Galván’s Lo Real/Le Réel/The Real will next be performed in Paris, Amsterdam and Ludwigsburg and then will return to Spain via stops in Seville and Granada. Let’s hope it comes to New York soon, before another year ends.

Seeing Dance (and Bullfights) in Spain

Monday, May 28th, 2012

By Rachel Straus

While the New York Times paints Spain as a country on the verge of collapse, the view from the streets of Madrid and Salamanca is quite different.

Yes, the restaurants are not as full, but that cannot be said of the bars. At Madrid’s Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas on May 27, the stadium was packed. Though the bullfights are a far cry from ballet or experimental dance, the posture of the toreadors (bullfighters) are inescapably similar to the stance of flamenco dancers: the arch of the back, the puff of the torso, the legs pressed together. The men even rise to relevé (the tips of their toes) before running toward the bull with flags that end in sharp knives. The overall experience is a bloody one. But unless you’re a vegetarian, you can’t escape being complicit in violence toward animals. Humans kill them for sustenance. Cows and chickens generally live lives of abject misery, and the process by which they come to urban tables is hidden. With the bullfight, the ritual reenactment of slaughter is raised to the level of art. The enormous animals are given names, have carefuly recorded family trees, and when they are about five years old, they fight for their lives to the accompaniment of live music. In rare cases, when one bull outsmarts a dozen gorgeously costumed men, in 15 to 20 minutes of fighting, the president of Las Ventas grants the animal its freedom. This winner returns to the countryside to grow old in privileged circumstances.

Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas

Compared to Madrid’s tickets prices for the bullfights (30 to 80 Euros), Salamanca’s Obra Social de Caja hosts performances and lectures about Spanish culture for practically nothing (3 Euros). Salamanca, an ancient city northwest of Madid that boasts the nation’s oldest university, isn’t known for its flamenco. But on May 24, the singer Sebastián Heredia Santiago performed for more than an hour at el Teatro de la Caja. Accompanied by guitarist Juan Antonio Muñoz, Santiago, known as the Cancanilla (the trickster) of Málaga, carried on an impromptu conversation with his fans in the audience. “Eres simpatico” (you are nice), shouted one lady. Cancanilla returned the compliment and thus began the love-in. Cancanilla, who has performed in the companies of José Greco and Lola Flores, and who looks like an amiable bullfrog because of the width of his throat, possesses a booming, plaintive voice that needs no amplification. He teased the audience, saying that he was going to get up and dance flamenco. I doubted the veracity of his statement, but Cancanilla kept his promise. What was astonishing was that this trickster can approximate the same nuanced power with his legs as he can with his lungs.

Sebastián Heredia Santiago

Unlike in the United States, Germany, and France, modern dance never flourished in Spain. That, however, does not mean that it doesn’t exist. On May 25, at Madrid’s El Huerto Espacio Escénico, modern dancer and choreographer Manuel Badás presented his one-man show Sebastián. The French-trained artist skillfully connects Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom with gay culture’s punishment of the body in its quest for physical perfection. Though it was not touched upon, gay men began pumping iron and obsessing about their abdominal muscles in increasing numbers with the AIDS crisis. Looking physically invulnerable, and sexy, was the community’s defense in the face of so many deaths.

Manuel Badás

In Sebastián, Badás creates a montage of stereotypical homosexual images: the drag queen with his five-inch heels, the cover model in white underwear, and the regular guy pouring over glossy male magazines, whose pages are riddled with advertisements for beauty pills and creams. Again and again, Badás transformed back into the martyr Sebastian. His stomach contracted as though struck by an arrow. His arms fluttered behind his back, like he was manacled and he was sprouting wings. He swirled across the floor, as though transcending rough terrain. Throughout, the music ricocheted between the past and present: from baroque hymns to classic American rock and jazz. Biblical quotes about Sebastian’s martyrdom were projected and Badás’ dancing became increasingly kinetic. In the last section, a recording of Billy Holiday singing Strange Fruit was heard. The young, lithe Badás lined up his glossy magazines in the shape of a cross. He tilted his body over a chair, becoming a strangely suspended fruit, one that has been martyred by today’s media-saturated forces.

George Bizet’s Carmen is a well-worn score. Flamenco companies, opera troupes, and car commercials have taken a bite out of the 1875 composition by the French (not Spanish) composer. On May 26 at the Teatro Nuevo Apolo, The Ballet Flamenco de Madrid ratcheted up the cliches associated with the Carmen story.

Veronica Cantos

Veronica Santos performed the title role. Choreographer Sara Lezana tipped her hat to Broadway by having her female flamenco dancers bare a lot more leg (and crotch) than is traditionally seen. Carmen is a tale of the gypsy femme fatale, who plays men against each other, has a taste for violence, and whose life ends tragically. She is stabbed to death by her soldier-lover Don Jose (Saulo Sanchez G). Instead of lamenting the vulgar aspects of this production (which could take up several pages), it’s best to mention what was worthwhile. Sanchez danced with elegance and emotional commitment. The decision to interpolate Bizet’s music with live flamenco, performed by a quartet of musicians (including a flutist), helped return Carmen back to Spain, the home of this wonderful art form.

April Dance Happenings: New York City

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

By Rachel Straus

 March 29 – April 9

Eiko & Koma

The Japanese avant-garde artists, whose home has been the U.S. since 1976, present the New York premiere of Naked at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. They will be intermittently naked, but what will stand out are their glacially slow movement tableaus that change one’s perception of time. Come with your patience, but know that you don’t have to stay the whole evening. The duo is offering Naked as an art installation. Audience members can come and go.

April 2

Dance of the Enchantress

At the Peter Norton Symphony Space, the South Indian classical dancer Vijayalakshmi will present herself in the dance style Mohiniyattam, which translates as “the Dance of the Enchantress.” According to ancient Indian legend, Vishnu the Preserver transformed himself into Mohini, an enchantress, in order to protect the universe from evil. Femininity and grace pervade the codified movements that alternate between pure dance and story telling. Performing along side Vijayalakshmi will be Palakal Rajagopalan (vocal), Muralee Krishnan (veena – lute), Sreekumar Kadampatt (edakka – hourglass-shaped drum), and Jayan Das (maddalam and mrdangam – double-headed tuned drums).

April 4

Merce Cunningham

On a monthly basis, the the Baryshnikov Arts Center has been showing Charles Atlas’ films of Merce Cunningham’s dances. Seeing Cunningham’s out-of-repertory works on a big screen is a boon to dance lovers. The next BAC flicks is eyeSpace (2006), which features music by David Behrman, costumes and sets by Daniel Arsham, and performances by the Cunningham dancers. The event begins with the webcast series called Mondays with Merce, which gives viewers deeper insight into Cunningham’s choreographic process. Valda Setterfield, a Cunningham performer from 1964-1974, will narrate and comment.

April 5-10

Stephen Petronio Dance Company

At the Joyce Theater, Stephen Petronio Company will present the New York premiere of Underland (2003). The work premiered with the Sydney Dance Company. It’s set to 14 songs by Australian rocker Nick Cave. It features multi-media projections by Mike Daly, another Down Under artist. Petronio’s evening-length work, now set on his 11 company members, is thick with movement and hipness.

April 8

“Ballet with a Modern Sensibility”

The 92nd St. Y’s “Fridays at Noon” free performance series continues with “Ballet with a Modern Sensibility.” Three choreographers—Christopher Caines, Brian Carey Chung, and Helen Heineman—will present excerpts of their new works, set to Italian Baroque music, and composers Meredith Monk, Arnold Schoenberg, Frédéric Mompou, Debussy, Beethoven, and Lou Harrison.

April 6-17

Ailey II

At The Ailey Citigroup Theater (the black box in the dance organization’s west 55 St. home), the second company will hold a two-week season. Six works and two programs will be danced by the 14-member Ailey II troupe, which travels the world almost as much as the parent company. The premieres include The Corner, a full ensemble work by Kyle Abraham—known for his fusion of popping, locking and post-modern dance—Doscongio by Robert Moses, set to two movements of Chopin’s Sonata for cello and piano (op. 65), and Shards by Donald Byrd, with music by Mio Morales.

April 14 – 16


At St. Mark’s Church, the pick-up troupe—comprised of dancers whose stage careers span several decades—will present two world premieres by its founding members, Carmen de Lavallade and Gus Solomons, Jr. The opening night performance will be followed by a celebration of Paradigm’s 15th anniversary and Carmen de Lavallade’s 80th birthday at Lautrec Bistro. You can join them, for a price, or just go to the show, which features a cast of eight veteran dancers, and a solo performance by Kyle Abraham, Solomon’s former student.

April 11

Dance Theatre of Harlem

At City Center Studio 5, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s artistic director Virginia Johnson and former New York City Ballet principal dancer Damian Woetzel will host an informal evening, focusing on the history of the first American black ballet company, founded at the height of the Civil Rights movement by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook. The pared-down company of dancers will perform excerpts from the repertoire.

April 12-24


DanceBrazil returns to The Joyce Theater with A Jornada (The Path), the high-octane 2001 work by artistic director Jelon Vieira. The evening-length piece is said the chart the path of Africans to Brazil. The Afro-Brazilian martial arts form Capoeira is used to express the emergence of Afro-Brazilian culture.

April 13-16

Juliette Mapp

At Dance Theater Workshop, Juliette Mapp will present her newest work, The Making of the Americans. Based on Gertrude Stein’s namesake novel about being from two worlds, Mapp’s evening-length, multi-media piece will investigate her mother’s family who emigrated from Albania to Gary, Indiana. The most famous citizen of Gary was Michael Jackson. He too will be part of Mapp’s dance theater work performed by eight dancers.

April 13

Ron Brown, Sean Curran, and Nelida Tirado

At the Museum of Art & Design’s black box subterranean theater, Ron Brown, Sean Curran, and Nelida Tirado will present works of whose content remains unknown. Fear not. Brown choreographs delightful concoctions drawn from West African and modern dance. Sean Curran does the same with Irish step dancing and contemporary concert dance movement. Tirado approaches the Flamenco tradition through her wide-ranging, eclectic performing experience.

April 15

Weidman, Maslow, Dudley, and Yuriko

At the 92nd St. Y, the free “Fridays at Noon” performance series continues with “Legacy Performance: Weidman, Maslow, Dudley, Yuriko.” Performed by students and professionals, the event will offer four works by three choreographers, who represented American modern dance’s second generation, interested in political activism. Weidman’s masterwork Lynchtown (1936) remains a powerful, seminal dance work.

April 15-30

John Kelly

At P.S. 122, performance and visual artist John Kelly will present The Escape Artist (2010), which “traces the story of a man who has a trapeze accident while rehearsing a theatre piece based on the life of Italian Baroque painter, Caravaggio. Stranded on a gurney with a broken neck in the hospital emergency room, he finds refuge in the images that flood his mind—the sinners and saints, prostitutes and gods that populate Caravaggio’s paintings. The Escape Artist contains seven original songs by John Kelly & Carol Lipnik, as well as covers of songs by Claudio Monteverdi and John Barry.” (from P.S. 122 website)

April 17

Swan Lake

At the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, the Russian National Ballet Theatre will present their version of Swan Lake. The company was founded in Moscow in the 1980s, when many artists from Soviet Union’s ballet institutions were forming new companies. Former Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer Elena Radchenko helms the company, known for performing works from the full-length, late 19th-century ballet repertoire.

April 25

Dance Against Cancer

At Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, the benefit performance “Dance Against Cancer” will offer performances by New York City Ballet dancers Daniel Ulbricht, Robert Fairchild, Amar Ramasar, Tyler Angle, Craig Hall, Wendy Whelan, Maria Kowroski, and Sterling Hyltin, as well as appearances by other well-known New York-based dancers. There will be three world premieres, created by fledgling ballet choreographers, and six short dance works created by George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon, Benjamin Millepied, Larry Keigwin, Lar Lubovitch, and Earl Mosley.

April 26-May 8

Armitage Gone! Dance

At The Joyce Theater, the company called Armitage Gone! Dance is back with a world premiere called GAGA-Gaku. It inspired by Cambodian Court dance and includes performances by Dance Theater of Harlem dancers. The two-week season features two programs, the second of which is a full-evening length dance based on Einstein’s theories of relativity and matter.

April 28–29

Valley of the Dolls

At Joe’s Pub, Nicole Wolcott and Vanessa Walters present their new cabaret piece, Alley of the Dolls (This is not a sequel). Inspired by the characters from Valley of the Dolls and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the dance ladies and their cohorts will likely spoof the B movies’ clichés about femininity with their popular brand of athleticism and tongue-and-cheek vulgarity.

April 29

World Dance Day

April 29 is World Dance Day, according to the International Dance Council CID, UNESCO.

April 29

Pearl Primus

At the 92nd St. Y, the free “Fridays at Noon” series continues with “Legacy Performance: Celebrating Pearl Primus.” One of the most important black American modern dance choreographers, Primus made three groundbreaking solos The Negro Speaks of Rivers, Strange Fruit, and Hard Time Blues. Students will perform the dances. A new book, The Dance Claimed Me (Yale University Press), will be on sale. The authors will read passages from their biography.