Gala Flamenca

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by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal

Despite the threat of another winter storm, audiences flocked to the Merriam Theater for the highly anticipated Gala Flamenca on Sunday night. Coinciding with the start of Philadelphia’s 2014 Flamenco Festival, the performance featured a host of internationally acclaimed flamenco superstars including Antonio Canales, Carlos Rodriguez, Karmine Amaya (grandniece of the legendary Carmen Amaya) and Jesús Carmona.

Like many so-called “ethnic” dance forms, especially those with a percussive focus, flamenco finds itself at a crossroads: how to preserve the form’s legacy without risking stagnation?  How to appeal to new audiences and new generations without neglecting tradition?

In a solo danced to the customary Soleá por bulerías, Rodriguez answered these questions by infusing pure flamenco with a lyrical quality so emotionally that I wondered for a moment if I wasn’t watching So You Think You Can Dance.  That’s not to diminish Rodriquez’s talent—no stranger to classical technique, he pirouetted like Baryshnikov in White Nights and skimmed across the floor—only to say that his performance and his more contemporary take on the theme of love lost rendered the centuries old art form irresistibly appealing.

In a similar vein, Carmona’s duet, TrillA7, performed with dancer Lucía Campillo, ramped up the sexual tension.  It’s rare to see lifts in flamenco, or smiles and stag leaps for that matter, but TrillA7 contained all three as it grew from a stark juxtaposition of male and female silhouettes into a captivating new take on traditional partnering.

A trio performed by Amaya, Campillo and dancer Carmen Coy, dressed in long red dresses with even longer trains, gave purists the fan work flamenco enthusiasts often expect, whereas Antonio Canales, the oldest and most seasoned of the soloists, provided a welcome counterpoint to the virtuosic footwork of his younger companions in Modernidad and Tangos de la Chumbera.

Nevertheless, it was Amaya’s and Carmona’s solos that garnered the greatest accolades.  Whereas Amaya showed pure skill, spotting the floor to add a beautiful curvilinear quality to her turns and hoisting up her long black and mocha colored gown to give audiences a closer look at her perfectly synchronized footwork, Carmona fused his impeccable technique with a charming, flirtatious performance quality.  In a beige suit, red cummerbund and matching red shoes, he alternated between lilting, figure skater-like turns and vibratory nerve taps, so intense that he somehow managed to pound clouds of dust out of the stage floor.

Rounding out the ensemble were singers Rocío Bazán, Antonio Campos and Ismael de la Rosa, guitarists Paco Cruz and Daniel Jurado, violinist Roman Gottwald and finally percussionist Miguel El Cheyenne.  The Philadelphia Flamenco Festival runs through March 16th with performances, film screenings, discussions and master classes taking place throughout the city.

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