what is poetic license anyway

Poetic license is a self-proclaimed right to break or bend the rules in order to create something meaningful.  Or, as defined by The Free Dictionary: license or liberty, esp. as taken by a poet or other writer, in deviating from conventional form, logic, fact, etc., to produce a desired effect.

I want to bend this definition to encompass a perspective on movement and writing, on the body and language that does not separate (these) into two distinct entities forever estranged but rather lives them as two aptitudes out of a larger range of aptitudes known as the body’s potentialities.

In all of its senses poetic license implies a transgressive gesture, enabling a space of writing that both produces and then sails out of the self-same transgressive breach, cutting a swath of transversal, bypassing clear-cut and lucid as over-defined identities.

Is this just a cute exercise, a brain teaser, tongue-twisting dilemma flouting resolution? No this is bodywork: the application of theories about dance to real world bodies and identities, with an eye towards gleaning takes on embodiment with a different slant, a slanted view of the world.

What emerges is not so much a direction but rather a tendency, a tending to-wards, out-wards that is also in-wards, that seeks out-with, but with-out seeking to undo or revolt. The tending  (tending in the sense of both an inclination and its caretaking) is renegade in the sense that it dares not know its name, it dares to seek not knowing, unidentified, sliding off the grid, to divest itself of itself, to become self-disowned.

An orphan, a bastard child, a foundling.

Poetic license is flushed out of hiding in the stepping across of boundaries, borders, lines, definitions, delimitations, laws, codes, practices, but stepping softly, with eyes vigilant, the attention attuned to the subtle rising and falling of body humours and their knowings, however these might present themselves. Poetic license is ever on the alert in its tending for unexpected sensations, intuitions, a drop in the stomach, a trembling in the chest, muscles spasms or cognitive shudders, nausea or delirious fast for-ward. Or unwinding like molasses slower than slowness, another understanding of slow of the sleek soft sensual premonitions that are otherwise bypassed.

Otherwise usually lost in translation from here to there. Otherwise usually defined as non-sense. Translation becomes thereby one path of poetic license, of the getting there, in its daring to run the risk of being lost in the in-between states, or in-between cultures, or in-between languages, and all of the pre-pre-prescribed determinations therein of being and knowing. Letting fly. Being lost, sliding into darkness, crossing over the final line of distinction that proves not to be so in any sense.  Jamming the senses, controversing them, stirring things up, stuttering, stammering, shuddering to explode, shake, heighten sensation.

Poetic license then drips, drops, detonates or defers. Steps aside, as if to let the words pass and then sticks out one toe and trips them so they fall down hard. So they stumble and tumble and roll and keep rolling until they lay there stunned-staring up at the ceiling, chewing on the cud of the thing, the base sensation of having arrived somewhere unfamiliar, and where all the same the sky spins, the sky revolts and shines back the reflection of things in reverse, affording oppositions, displaying them blatantly. Like a kind of joke. Like a kind of trap.

And so. Poetic license lets all of this be, seeing the yes-no, up-down, body-knowledge, right-wrong, good-evil, man-woman, inside-outside, same-different polemic and letting it be what it is. But no more. Awareness of it, out of the corner of the eye, (there’s no need to uphold it, it will do just fine without your help) it hovers suspended and universally all powerful or so it claims.

As if it were a mirage and nothing more. Something quaint in its presumptuous, all-powerful take on the here and now, something archaic in its unapologetic demands for complete submission.  The real world. As somebody once said, though it’s hard to remember quite just who and why their words had such staying power, as if they were a prayer.

But it’s important to keep in mind that it’s also a matter of the body’s potentialities, and as such, by definition open and for the time being infinite in its manifestations and the written expressions of the same.

 

Nexr up: Hand-writing.

 

Stories of Subversion and Containment in Flamenco: The critical reception and misrepresentation of Marco Flores’ Laberíntica

 

I

Flamenco is not pretty bodies in space performing fancy footwork. It is a state of mind, an existentially embodied state.  It both constructs and maintains a dimension overlapping, at times adjacent to, but also distinctive from the dominant aesthetic paradigm through which we in the West organise and distribute the sensible knowings of our experiences with art. Flamenco does not have an intention of subverting this paradigm per se; it actually feeds on it to a certain degree. But it also has an uncanny ability to coexist, both separate and complicit, through the constitution of cell-ular spaces. Here I mean cell in the sense of a succinctly delineated as separate site within a landscape, and cellular in the physiological sense, as in the (re)production of an embodied state.

Felix Guatarri writes the following about art in archaic societies which clarifies further what I am getting at:

“It was only quite late in Western history that art detached itself as a specific activity concerned with a particularized axiological reference…[in the archaic society] an individual’s psychism wasn’t organized into interiorized faculties but was connected to a range of expressive and practical registers in direct contact with social life and the outside world…[leaving little place for] the disengagement of an aesthetic sphere distinct from other spheres (economic, social, religious or political).” (Guattari, pp. 88-89, 1992)

I cite this not as a means of giving privilege to flamenco as a folk art as opposed to dance for the stage, nor as a means of narrowly defining flamenco as the provenance of the gitano community alone. I would however highlight here both these threads as these are evidenced in the flamenco dancing body, in the interests of mapping some of that same body’s complexity. For that body succeeds in inhabiting both of the aesthetic paradigms outlined by Guatarri here. Flamenco is never just one thing: the flamenco dancing body retains  sedimentary layers as an archaic folk culture, which continues to survive, as well as layers of embodied expression spun into being through the period of the cafés cantantes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the influences of the travels of flamenco artists during that same period and up to the present. And further layers are being spun as we speak.

This transversal of various aesthetic paradigms on the part of flamenco, on the one hand, imposes difficult requirements on the artist, but on the other represents and evidences a particular capacity for adaptation, as with an uncanny adeptness flamenco can and does take root, unfold and sometimes thrive as a “detached” art object for consumption, also as capital – cultural, economic, and human – within and along established lines of distribution and without disrupting these. What happens to the Flamenco dancing body as it is subsisting along such lines of distribution is not a given, i.e. it is not a given that such distribution is equivalent to its inevitable perversion or demise.

This implies that Flamenco also constitutes an aesthetic paradigm in its own right. In this context there is a thread from a previous entry that I would like to pick up here and that is the point I made in connection with our perception/reading of traditional dance forms: that flamenco’s embodiment offers a strategy for the transmission and storage of local memory, yes, but also for its present and ongoing enactment, which by necessity, will also be adapted as new stories are acquired and integrated.  In the case of Marco Flores’ Laberintico, this enactment entailed a reconfiguration of the representation of male gender identity as found in flamenco dance. In so doing, as I will seek to demonstrate, this piece is nothing less than groundbreaking. It is an example of the flamenco dancing body’s capacity to adapt and mutate within these various paradigms, drawing from its particularly performative register, specifically in keeping with shifting norms for embodiment and gender identity, while at the same time preserving the flamenco dancing body as unified subject.

In short, for me, and I emphasise for me, for reasons I will return to below, Marco Flores’ Laberíntica illustrates what has been inherent to the flamenco dancing body ever since its inception: an intrinsic capacity for survival through a uniquely organic resilience. At the same time, this piece brings to the surface, transgresses and subverts some very concrete limits within flamenco’s own aesthetic paradigm, specifically with respect to the representation of gender and economies of desire.

II

I left the theatre in tears (yeah, I know, if you’ve been following me, it probably seems like I always cry, but in fact it is the case that I only write about the productions that do make me cry, and I am still crying now and then, for reasons that will be made evident below), speechless, but also, overjoyed. At one level, it was simply the sheer pleasure of being treated to an evening of beautifully compelling male dancers in interaction, as they navigated the production’s “labyrinth” of despair, confusion, and redemption − there was both fluidity and elegance, along with a friction, a rawness in the quality of movement, in the embodied enactment of stories emerging through layer upon layer of signification: part cellular memory, part the overlapping and coalescing of the many historical and cultural influences the flamenco dancing body comprises, part the passage of personal stories through these layers in the body of the individual dancer.

Maintaining this texture always, the expression here also stretches, is stretched. The dancers are all men. One of the guitarists is, surprise, a woman, and in 10 years of affiliation with flamenco she is only the second female guitarist I have ever seen on stage. All of the singers, women. There is something about the way the men are connected as they dance as an ensemble that breaks with what Levi Strauss has termed “the right distance between men”, here as this distance and its configuration is traditionally established in flamenco. I glean this already in the opening sequence, it dawns on me that they are relating to one another as erotic subjects.  At first this is just a sensation, but it later acquires concrete expression, as male dancers reach out  – and touch one another. Caress one anothers’ faces, shoulders. Dance together in pairs, exchange meaningful glances, exchange panuelos. Flores has succeeded in taking sexual politics out of flamenco’s closet. In so doing, every single segment of this breathtaking work acquired for me a heartbreaking resonance that continued to reverberate exponentially as the performance progressed. Because with each and every touch, caress, glance, the structures of flamenco’s aesthetic paradigm for gendered, embodied identity are being first made visible, plied, tested and transgressed. The traditional male flamenco dancing body is thus both produced, and reconfigured, through the introduction of another economy of desire.

Let’s be clear: flamenco is traditionally a solo dance. As such, relationships between dancers do not always enter into the equation. In the use of ensemble work in the staging of flamenco for the theatre, however, this possibility is on the other hand in practice. And that ensemble work employs (does not question) “conventional” roles for male and female dancers and their sexual orientation, whereby the traditional familial structure is upheld (not questioned).  The economy of desire in traditional flamenco is heteropolar: it constitutes and upholds a perception of love, erotic desire and gender identity as exclusively heterosexual. Men love women, and women love men. Period. Gender “difference”, i.e. same-sex love does not have a place in this scenario. So while a male solo flamenco dancer may (and in fact often does) embody feminine qualities that are not conventionally associated with the masculine body, without being perceived as “being” homosexual,  in ensemble work this does not immediately spill over into the subversion or reconfiguration of the conventionally prescribed heterosexual gender roles for men and women. Flamenco succeeds in containing this “feminised” male identity within traditional structures.

Personally I am not a big fan of the use of epic structures in flamenco. A thematic focus, a concrete setting, fine. But my feeling is that the expression of the flamenco dancing body, its enactment if you will, is more spatial than linear, more poetry than prose. The corporal expression is syncretic, or in semiotic terms, index as well as symbol. In embibing all of these dimensions, it tells stories in a manner that thwarts linear logic. When an artist seeks then to put flamenco dance into a linear structure, giving that aforementioned enactment a “plot”, this often has the effect of if not detracting from, at the very least flattening out, what was at the outset a complex spatial expression, one which is meaningful in its own right, not least with respect to how the body itself knows and how it best shares that knowledge.

What Flores has done here, however, is not create a “plot” with a beginning, middle and end; I mention this because in a number of the reviews I read it seemed that the critics were seeking and failing to find just this, and complaining about the lack of “sense”. What he has done here is create a spatial configuration (a labyrinth) through the movement itself and the staging, specifically through the particular positioning of the dancers on stage, which created interacting constellations and substructures within the overall structure of the piece. To clarify, as an example, he could have chosen to put a physical “labyrinth” on the stage which the dancer(s) then struggled with accordingly. The labyrinth as enacted here is thus not external to the dancers themselves, but in fact first produced by them, as incorporated in their own bodies and simultaneously sought subverted, vanquished, or transformed.

In so doing, he has in fact staged the flamenco dancing body also as an aesthetic paradigm, complete with relations of power and identity construction. He has not deviated from the spatial, poetic structure of embodied knowledge that is flamenco, not in the dance of the individual dancer nor in the staging as such. He has created a choreography that is organic and lived by the dancer, and faithful to flamenco’s own inherent structures of knowing: The labyrinth then becomes this very aesthetic paradigm that is flamenco, and the challenges involved in establishing, incorporating spaces therein for sexual difference. That same paradigm then proves to be exceedingly resistant to innovation or transgression with respect to its definitions of gender identity

III

To put some of these observations into perspective, also as a means of illustrating further how groundbreaking this work was, how courageous Flores is in presenting it in the current context of flamenco in Spain in the real world today: something very interesting took place in the reviews that were written about this dance work. Or more accurately, didn’t take place. Neither the critic covering the festival for Diario de Jerez nor the critic for the website http://www.flamencoworld.com – the two main publications covering this annual event, and who wrote about this production – nor el Mundo, nor any of the other reviews I have managed to find online about this piece written after its premiere at the Biennal in Sevilla in 2013 – none of them mentioned, or even hinted at, anywhere, at any time, themes such as gender identity or sexual politics, economies of desire, (ok, be prepared I’m going to say it) or homoeroticism.

Just absorb that for a few seconds.

The critic from Diario de Jerez made vague reference to “human relationships” (ahem, cough, cough, requisite shuffling of feet, eyes looking down aside away, shit there it is, where do I look, help, I can’t escape, o god they’re…touching each other. Get me out of here, but then, Oh, right, human, universality of experience, we are the world, blablabla. Phew. Sigh of relief.)

It was silenced. Simply and effectively. However much I try to convince myself: 1. I am making it up. I am a perverted soul and I manufactured the entire scenario, none of it actually happened.
2. That I am being reactionary, that the reviewers neglected to mention it because homosexuality has become so normalized in our society now that it does not bear mention, that it was more important to speak about…hmmm, sorry what was it again, that was more important than the theme? wait, wait a minute, I’ll figure it out, but, no…

Sorry, it doesn’t wash (my perverted soul notwithstanding). The critic from Diario de Jerez went on and on about how bored he was, how repetitious the choreography was, and thank god that Flores danced a bulerias in the end so normalcy was restored (which was also the clip flamencoworld.com chose to show on its site, in connection with its review, which was fine, because the bulerias too was amazing, except let’s be clear: a choice was also made there to use a clip of a more traditional segment, rather than one which in fact would be more representative of the piece as a whole). The question is thereby tediously begged: could it possibly be the case that the critic was offended in his own personal labyrinth and so profoundly so that he simply shut down? That would be the best case scenario. The worst case scenario: a conscious choice was made, is being made to censure this material. In either case, the consequences of this are many, most obviously a failure to understand the work as a whole, because you are editing out significant portions of the material, and the result has been the complete distortion and misrepresentation of that work in its critical evaluation.

Whether or not I agree that this is “appropriate” subject matter for a flamenco dance production (yeah, even as I write that sentence I can hear how stupid it is), the subject matter was there. On stage, as a friend of mine said for everyone to see, but nobody saw it. Shouldn’t the critic at least have given it a mention? It is actually his job to mention it. It is his job to assess whether the work in question fulfills its promise, its artistic intention and in doing that he or she is of necessity obligated to consider all of its elements. And if he takes issue with homoerotic contents in flamenco, he should at least have the cajones to say so and take a stand. Otherwise it’s just cowardice, and a profound lack of respect for the artists. It’s the re-enactment of that same old story: there’s an elephant in the room, maybe if we just don’t talk about it, it will go away or better, we can just pretend it was never there in the first place. And if we all agree, if we all write about it as if it was never there, presto, it disappears. We don’t have to deal with it! We can continue on in our own post-reactionary stupefied state, cultivating a time when men were real men and nothing more.

Sorry, but when was that, exactly?

All the usual metaphors apply.

IV

This leads us to performativity and straight back to the resilience of – no, not the unified subject, but in fact a faction within flamenco as an institution who have decided that certain elements have no place in flamenco,  under the guise of being flamenco’s advocates and protectors. Laugh if you will, poopoo them, call them dinsosaurs, a dying breed, but if you are serious about the arts, and understand its connectedness to society and rules of power, (and frankly if you don’t, haven’t, won’t, I can’t really understand what you’re doing in the arts in the first place) you can’t read this as being about anything less than, anything other than the control of subjectivity, which translates into control over the flamenco dancing body. And that is a crime that many afficiondados are breathlessly enthusiastic about attributing to the dubious powers held responsible for upholding our current aesthetic paradigm, which is ruled to a large extent by consumption (take your pick, global capitalism, neoliberalism, art institutions, the industry of psychology and discourses of self-realisation…). And it is of interest – no, in fact, important – to point out this very telling critical gesture, hold it up and shake it until somebody takes notice, despite the risk that may run of attributing more importance to it than it merits.

Because it is censorship. Nothing less. And this is in fact how history gets written, this is how consciousness is formed, and becomes mutually formative, to the extent that the person who produces a performative gesture is not the same person writing about it, which generally tends to be the case. It applies to oral cultures in general, and again, there can be said to be a parallel here between how oral and/or archaic cultures have been documented and the documentation of dance.  Where you there? Were the other witnesses? Has there been a crime? Does anybody know how to write ?

Perspectives from social choreography offer some glimpse of the irony here, and here I return to my opening remarks, because it is precisely through flamenco’s retention of its identity also as an archaic art form that it possesses the capacity to affect rehearsals and reconfigurations of embodied identity, rather than solely their representation in the manner of a romantic and transcendent art object. And it is this particular dimension that the old guard is purportedly very concerned about preserving. That very ability flamenco has to function performatively, as social choreography if you will, conceived from and in relation to the real world.

With this in mind, it is however a given, that as social mores (and the concomitant laws) prescribing the limits and acceptability with regard to difference and the same: our perceptions of what’s “normal” and thereby allowed in relation to gender identity – as these norms evolve and coalesce, a body will – must − be evidenced (rehearsed and refined) within flamenco art in keeping with this, constituting and then confirming that embodied identity in relation to a community and society. By stopping this, censuring it, you are then also performing nothing less than an amputation of the very organ you have defined as integral for flamenco’s survival in the first place, even as its most important signifying feature.

References

Calado, Sylvia. “The Search.” http://www.flamenco-world.com/magazine/about/jerez2014/resenas/marco02032014ing.html (Accessed 05 March 2014)

Guattari, Felix. 1995. Chaosmosis. An ethico-aesthetic paragigm. English translation by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Pereira, Fran. 2014. “Perdido en su proprio laberinto” in Diario de Jerez, Monday 03 March.

When one goes to see a flamenco dance performance, one arrives with some very specific expectations. The flamenco dancing subject is a unified subject. Its embodied identity is given. To the extent that innovation exists in flamenco, it does not question or challenge the givenness of this unified subject, much less the terms of its embodiment. Where innovation does take place, it is as a rule in the staging, the introduction of theatrical elements or methods, the addition of something traditionally not included in a flamenco performance – another kind of dance, for instance, the intention of which however is not explicitly to subvert or dismantle the flamenco dancing subject’s identity. It may ruffle the feathers of the latter, or highlight, cast into relief certain dimensions, but the flamenco dancing body as a unified subject remains intact.

And yes, although I will not address it in depth at this point, I do include Israel Galvan in this claim. For me, his work is in fact evidence of the brutal tenacity of that unified subject.

Olga Pericet’s production Pisadas of 27 February, is a good example here. In one provocative segment, La fiera en el monte, Juan Carlos Lérida performed an entire garrotin – and brilliantly so − wearing a huge pair of deer antlers around his neck. The intention, as I absorbed it, was a highlighting of the beastlike or animal aspects of embodiment, as these are hunted down and captured, even entangled and imprisoned in dance.  But in spite of the fact that Lérida must have toiled and suffered mightily as he danced wearing this unwieldly rack, the flamenco dancing subject remained undisturbed. This in itself was a pretty amazing feat, and an opening emerged here, kinesthetic in nature, with respect to the animal in-or-of the (flamenco) dancing body, which was not however, pursued. When Pericet entered towards the end of this segment, the dance slid over into epic narration, lost its former focus and also moved subsequently out of flamenco (and this was without doubt the weakest part of the entire work).  The concluding number, a brief theatrical segment: Pericet dons an Elizabethan costume made of paper maché, which she then proceeds to reshape and discard. Beautiful surely, in her body’s sculpture-like aesthetic, tactile. This short epilogue, a commentary on the feminine body and the classic constraints, however well executed, came across as tacked on. An after-thought where the connection to the work as a whole − not least the bulerias which immediately preceded it − for me remained obscure, and as such only served to undermine that which otherwise had been an exceedingly well thought-out and solid dramaturgy, by leading it into a bizarre oblivion.

To return to my main point, innovative elements notwithstanding, there is no overt questioning here of the terms of the flamenco dance’s embodiment. This stands in stark contrast to contemporary dance – or new dance or postmodern dance or whatever you may choose to call it – which has at the very least since Merce Cunningham questioned in practice the very conditions of embodiment itself, rejecting dance as the representation of emotions and instead seeking to create expressive movement. It dismantles the notion of a unified subject, abandoning the idea of the dancer as representing a kind of clearly defined and intact embodied subjectivity. It has instead sought to explore the terms for the constitution of that same subjectivity, through fragmentation, deconstruction, play at the level of soma, prioproception, kineasthetic transmission, etc. It asks what might embodiment otherwise be. As a spectator, one enters the theatre in a state of at least semi-ignorance, the only expectation being that one doesn’t know what is going to happen and allows oneself to be acted upon. Moved. Social choreography then, by extension, proposes dance/movement not as the reflection of society’s shifting parameters or its aesthetic representation, but as one of the means by which such shifts are worked through and effected. This in turn offers a particular perspective on dance as a means of political resistance through embodiment.

What does this make flamenco? A somewhat quaint folkloric practice, increasingly out of step with the ever accelerating locomotive fueling lived bodies and embodied identity? If we ask the question Gilles Deleuze asked, “What can a body do?” this is perhaps more productive than comparing flamenco to contemporary dance.  What is proper to the flamenco dancing body, what does it do, what are the terms of that embodiment, and what does it bring to the fore – does it bring anything to the fore − that breaks with current expectations for the body? What is the purpose of that unified subject, what is its job, if you will? Is it solely preservation qua representation of social scenes weighed down by the nostalgia for an Orientalist myth? The exotic gitano on the eternal and unchanging patio, where the Western subject under bombardment may seek refuge from the constant onslaught of our media infused society?  Is that unified subject solely able to dish up the dancing body as neatly contained spectacle?

A common misconception about traditional dance forms is that they are unchanging, frozen in time, but this is to completely miss the point, this is to address a dance form such as flamenco, from the skewed lens of contemporary dance, which as I believe I have managed to illustrate, is following wholly different trajectory. Flamenco’s embodiment offers a strategy for the transmission and storage of local memory, yes, but also for its present and ongoing enactment, which by necessity, will also be adapted as new stories are acquired and integrated. It has also been my contention that while traditional flamenco is intent on preserving a very specific form of embodied subjectivity, the latter runs counter to the body valued in the current era, what I have called the centric body. It runs counter to the extent that it is not hell-bent on perfection – neither in the sense of virtuosity, nor in the sense of a perfect body. Physical perfection as we define and value it today in Western society is not of interest to flamenco. It does not help it get where it needs to go. It does not assist the flamenco dancing body in producing the state that goes by the name of duende, that particular break in kinesthetic perception opening a sudden plateau of awareness that gives us no choice but to rethink what bodies can do, that challenges our definitions of temporality, memory, the boundary between life and deat: in short, what it means to be embodied in the first place. The flamenco dancing body is cultivating and transmitting, ok, here it comes: a particular way of being in the world. Una manera de ser. Producing this – as a state or identity – calls for technique in its own right, the transmission of which in flamenco has been to a large extent through an oral culture, which is also, by the by, how dancers anyway tend to pass on knowledge: from one body to the next. But the unarticulated nature of this particular technique makes it easy to overlook. Or underestimate. Or mystify.

And in light of this, oddly enough, many of the self-proclaimed innovative practices found in flamenco are in fact the most conformist, in the avid incorporation of this centric body. Transitions are taking place in the flamenco dancing body, some subtly, others not so much, such as the extreme sport nature of some younger artists, the Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia as staged at last year’s festival comes to mind here. More interesting is the emergence of a particular plasticity of movement, which derives from the fact that many flamenco dancers are now also learning contemporary dance technique as part of their training. This produces a movement quality, an elasticity of gesture that has not been a characteristic of flamenco previously. And it introduces an entirely new dimension into the expression.  Marco Flores is a good example in this case, particularly because I see in him an embodied interaction, a negotiation even, between this more “contemporary” plasticity on the one hand, and the traditional flamenco dancing body – as the latter also remains securely in place.

But again, the body-subject, the terms of flamenco dance’s embodiment are not being questioned in either of these cases. The intention, in both of the above examples, is in fact how to make the flamenco dancing body better.  Stronger, faster, fitter, even more resilient. Apart from the risk this runs of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, of polishing that same body right out of existence, I don’t believe this to be an explicit intention. And neither does it question the significance of that subject – to the contrary, it could be said in fact to be hell bent on ensuring its survival.

Some of these perspectives found expression in En la Memoria del Cante: 1922 by Rafaela Carrasco and the Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia. First and most evidently in large portions of the ensemble work, which was structured in a manner both creating and then subverting synchronicity. The unified subject is first established and then subtly challenged, as the ensemble splits, and divides, dancers moving in unison break away one by one to dance apart from the still dancing-in-unison ensemble, only to subsequently be drawn back into the fold. It is frustrating to watch, exhausting even at times. But never does the dance, the dancer slip out of the bounds of this defined persona. This perception is further upheld by the otherwise traditional nature of the piece, both in terms of the canté and the choreography. The effect of the ensemble work is then of producing a wrinkle, a frisson, which is ultimately recuperated within that larger landscape. The flamenco dancing body as a unified subject seeks to stray from its limits, but is ultimately upheld.

Carrasco herself came out to dance a cantiñas in the final segment, which in keeping with the ambience of the work as a whole, drew from the postures and movement repertoire of early in the 20th century. And here is an example, no, a mind-shattering demonstration, of the difference between physical technical proficiency in flamenco and artistry. In the course of the opening bars of the cantiñas Carrasco is transformed before our eyes, like a mutating organism in a viscerally discernible transition, through which she becomes something – someone − other than herself. She conjures up the movements as if drawing them out of the shadows of her body, slips them on as if they were a cherished, old garment. Here then is an example of what the flamenco dancing body can do, how it challenges a conventional understanding of the body and its limits. This too a technique in its own right, in the accessing of embodied memory, which dance is one means of preserving through a kind of cellular recall, re-enacted through the movements themselves. The body’s time and perceived physical steadfastness are suddenly at risk, seem fickle notions at best – infused with something we for lack of understanding call magic, or witchcraft, but guess what, it’s technique.

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.

Deliverance.