Review: Pasión y Arte at The Barnes

by Ashabi Rich for The Dance Journal

“Harmonising everyone with the surrounding environment” is the definition of feng shui and that ideal atmosphere perfectly describes the incredibly beautiful experience that awaited patrons fortunate to be present at the First Friday offering on June 2nd at The Barnes Foundation.  Intimately staged within the dramatic design of this art museum’s atrium, The Barnes Foundation was host to an evening of flamenco in tablao style by Pasión y Arte (PyA).  Large squares of intersecting windows on the far right wall, along with the glass entrance doors, admitted the natural light that encased the often spell-bound patrons as they experienced the music, dance and song of an art form originating from Andalusia, Spain. Three musicians and five dancers invigorated themselves, and the appreciative audience, with an energy that consistently renewed itself from the caja (box) drum, six-string acoustic electric guitar, and two vocalists. The music sparked seemingly spontaneous combustion of rhythmic phrases of dancing, finger snapping, dramatic winding whirls, jumps, heel and toe-tapping, stomping, and brushing of shoes on the floor, often ending in momentary classic dramatic poses.  PyA burst forth in the two-part show like radiant flashes from a well-cut gem eliciting shy “Ole’s” and hand clapping claves from the audience.

A standing room only audience, made up of the very young to the aged, collectively followed the cadenced performances of dramatic, mesmerising women that alternated interludes of expression as soloists, harmonic blends with fellow dancers, and in trades – call and response with accomplished musicians.   Percussive phrasing emanated from the metal taps attached to the heels and toes of traditional flamenco shoes that conversed with the wood floor via strong legs, quick feet and supple ankles.  Flourishes of elegant poses, jumps and turns, accompanied by rhythmic clicking of fingers (sans the stereotype of canastas) framed the women in striking attire. Equally enthralling were the magnetic men in black slacks, shoes, and shirts playing caja, along with punctuated double cymbals struck with the palms and fingers of percussionist Guillermo Barron.  A rhapsodising electric acoustic guitar in the masterful hands of guitarist Raphael Brunn harmonised with the strong and expressive singing of vocalist Hector Jose Martinez, and the clear, melodious voice of Barbara Martinez.  Martinez also beguiled us with her dancing, attired in a gorgeous gold and off-white layered dress.

Flamenco artist, Xianix Barrera, a picture of sensuous hour-glass richness, transfixed many pairs of eyes with fiery grace and sinuous body movement.  Draped in a magnificent, embroidered peacock blue silk shawl with shimmering bone fringes, Barrera skillfully flung, wrapped and unwrapped herself as she wended through an entrancing solo.  Alexa Milton elicited “Oles!” as a fire-ball of energy in a delicate embossed black dress that dropped to exclamation points in feet outlined in the fire of blood-red leather shoes moving at lightning speed.  As she lit matches with her feet, she slowed to whirl like a constrained tornado.

Artistic director and founder, Elba Hevia y Vaca summed up the second half of the performance by special guest artist, Raquel Amparo Heredia (“La Repompilla”) as “the one who brought the spirit” and undeniably, that she did. From her first dramatic entrance in floor length fire velvet to a change into dramatic black complete with roses in her swept-back brown hair, La Repompilla brought the spirit of this art form down to earth. She made demonstrable statements about what makes flamenco so exciting to watch and perform. Heredia was magnificent and in full command of her art. Watching her dance, listening to her sing, bringing each musician out to do a call and response solo with her, she literally brought the house down and the audience up cheering for several standing ovations. Last night I think she caused many new viewers of flamenco to fall in love with the art, as expressed with this intimate style of tablao.  Heredia, the musicians, and Pasión y Arte provided one of those moments when you wish for another lifetime in order to dance this Flamenco!


photo credit: Inez Korff

About Ashabi Rich

Ashabi Rich, a Norristown native, began dancing in A.D. Eisenhower High School's extra-curricular dance club studying Graham technique. While attending Swarthmore College, she continued in modern dance through elective dance classes under Patricia Boyer who eventually established the department for Swarthmore’s major in dance. Ashabi later went on to become a dance major at Temple University studying with Hellmut Gottschild, Eva Gholson, and Patricia Hobson among others. While at Temple she performed with the East Indian Dance club (Kathak). She became a company dancer with Philadelphia raised ballet dancer John Jones (United Souls of America), and later spent six years with Robert “Baba” Crowder's Kulu-Mele African Dance and Drum Company. She has also been a guest dancer with Alo!Brasil, and taught at the Stephen’s School of Dance in Germantown.

Ashabi has studied dance under dance and drum icon John Hines, Faye Snow, Gilset Mora, Carmen Butler, Ione Nash, Dottie Wilkie, Onyin Harris, Youssouf Koumbassa, and Cachet Ivey. As a student at the American Dance Festival/Connecticut College, Ashabi studied under Clay Taliaferro, Walter Nix, Gay Delange, and Thelma Hill. Ashabi is a Certified Reiki II practitioner in the Mikao Usui lineage through Reiki Master Helen Blue and Grandmaster Earlene Green. She is a martial arts aficionado having studied judo, Praying Mantis kung fu, Wing Chun kung fu with Sifu Mo Bah Wei (Frank Wyatt), Shotokan karate (Teruyuki Okazaki), Akido (Yukio Utada), and Jujitsu-Shotokan karate (Andrew Lyn. Sr.). She is SAG-AFTR membership eligible from the movie-In Her Shoes (screen credit Asabi Rich.) and is a graduate of Temple University with a BA in English. Currently Ashabi is a graduate student at Temple University's Klein College of Media and Communication studying for an MS in Globalization and Development Communication.

View All Posts