Gala Flamenco. Sunday, 23 February at Teatro Villamarta


 Two days into the festival and two things have happened: I have acquired in record time the prerequisite cold/over-stimulated state of nervous exhaustion, and I have been proven wrong on one very important point and happily so: there is room for both perfect and imperfect flamenco dancing bodies, for representation and enactment, performance and performatives on one and the same stage. Not only is there room, but artistic possibilities therein which have perhaps not been fully recognised or exploited. Gala Flamenco illustrated just that, and olé tu Antonio Canales, olé for your stamina, your locura, your arte. Antonio Canales, the malcreant returned to the fold, with a sly, somewhat guilty glance, with each remate successfully completed he beams, no less, as if thinking, this old dog has a few good moves left in him yet, and gleefully sharing that awareness with his audience, with no interest in pretending to be other than he is at this moment, no ambition of becoming in his own words our dancer of choice, our “bailaor preferido”, but somehow finds himself in the running for just that.

Ganales has learned humility and he wears it well. There was a moment, it lasted for about four seconds, when he entered from stage back and walked slowly to centre stage that the mere connection between his physical presence and the canté/cantaor was bewitching. I was snared, transfixed, bewildered. Time stopped. It can be that simple. A dark passage slid open introducing a cadence and with that, Flamenco had entered the room.

And perfection there was, in the dance of two exquisite male dancers, Carlos Rodriguez and Jesús Carmona, respectively. I am enthralled: it is nothing less than exquisite. The choreography finds a clean balance, the traditional structures are in place, but enhanced, twisted or extended, and all of it executed with the virile, intense energy of young male dancers approaching the pinnacle of their prowess. Technically speaking this is virtuosity, no less. Rodriquez in his stance and energy, majestic and enclosed, a torrero in his focused intent. Carmona playful, pretending innocence, full of smiles for us even before he begins to dance. It is gorgeous, it is impressive and I am enjoying myself.  This is very, very good dance. It delivers itself to me, right into my lap.

It is not over the top or overproduced. The choreography succeeds in pushing the envelope just a bit, true to form, it is clean, but there is sweat, there is exertion, but not the exertion that flies into acrobatic flips just because. Not the cleanness that bores me after literally three minutes so I either fall asleep or start thinking about whether or not it will rain tomorrow. The energy here is both driven and contained. I see the limits of their bodies as they are working, I see the limits imposed by the choreography itself, I see the dancers pushing, plying those same limits and there is texture here, there is abrasion, a roughness in spite of all of the smooth and masterful execution, a roughness that I both need and like. These are real bodies, they bleed, they ache. And in the tension produced there are sparks, there is pathos, there is beauty. There is alchemy, enough so that I am hopeful.

So I wait. I wait and I wait in vain. It does not come – that moment when something shifts. Or breaks. The moment when all of this hard work and testing of limits produces something – else. There is transmission here, yes, but it remains for me somehow staged. Sealed off. I am moved, yes, because the quality of the energy is such that it is tactile, it brushes up against me, makes me shiver and yearn, but it does not grab me profoundly. As I sit there I find myself considering the possibility that maybe I am just a bit greedy. I don’t just want to see you sweat. I want to see your soul. I want to see you break that same mirror that you have all of your energy and concentration hell bent on producing and upholding, which I am basking in, shamelessly, yes, but even as I am mesmerised by that reflection, even as the gaze rushes out to meet it, I am waiting for the moment when you will reveal to me just how much all of this, while not an illusion, is only a part of the story.

Carmona’s smile is tugging at me, begging further consideration. A smile that is staged, choreographed certainly, emerging at very specific moments in the choreography. While Canales’ cocky, self-deprecating smile, somehow also full of gratitude, is fully present in the moment, it is ours, unreservedly, the smile of Carmona remains enshrouded in the illusion of his own spectacle. These two smiles connect the two dancers and their embodiment, begs their comparison, and a resonance is produced as such. A reflection on youth and its inevitable folly, but all the same how beautiful it is in its transience, how skilfully it navigates the minefield of existence. It does not falter, it does not fall, it is sublime in its presumed omnipotence. For the time being, it has not crashed into its own reflection.

So does this work continue to cohere for me at the exact moment when it moves into the final segment, which seals the deal. For Karime Amaya’s seguiriya also gives us technical virtuosity, not only in her already much acclaimed lightning footwork, but also in the sensual and weighted earthiness of her body work. Her arm movements are sinuous, snake-like and elegant. There is something alluringly wicked in her beauty, she is a siren and she does not disappoint. She gets us there, and subtly, not in one fell swoop but step by painful, torturous step as she travels deeper and deeper – yes, here too the flying footwork seems to be against all odds actually digging something out of the floor of the stage itself, the tension here of up (see me fly catch me if you can) against down (the earth, the ponderous weight of the female body) conjures up an excavation that is maintained and compounded for the full distance of the macho. An insistent, relentlessly pounding pulse. Until the moment comes and the mirror is shattered, once, and then again, just for good measure. When she calls to the heavens they tremble in response, the air quakes, her shadow slips into dischord, a resonating mocking repute, it multiplies, is released, a tattered spirit leaping and enlivened in flight.



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