BWW Reviews: A Palo Seco - A Fiery Glimpse into the Flamenco Soul
Disappearing through a low arching doorway out of the noise of the East Village into the sultry, low lit speakeasy at Marks Place is like disappearing into another world. Walking past the couples whispering in corners to each other over plates of sausage and red wine, you disappear into the theatre through the back that emanates with history. As the lights fade to black, a lone violin sings to us a haunting tune that embodies the tears and joys of the Moors and Spanish gypsies from the days past. As the curtain opens, the violinist, joins the rest of the band against the back brick wall and A Palo Seco Flamenco Company begins their performance of CINCO POR CINCO.
"El Lenguaje del Abanico" was a piece performed by three dancers dressed in long black flamenco style skirts with white blouses, and red fans that flashed and snapped, accenting their powerful choreography and piercing gaze. Traditionally the Spanish fan is used as a means of flirtation, but in Tomas' choreography, these fans act like whips, slicing through the sky, accentuating arm gestures and wrist snaps, as well as playing a heavy percussive role. The women's unfaltering gaze cast a spell of strength and fire, while their feet hit the floor with great speed and percussive rhythms.
One of the key performances of the night was "Las Farrucas," performed by dancers Marina Elana and Leslie Roybal. Traditionally a male dance, this piece dripped with feminine machismo. Sharp, staccato, heavily rhythmic movements gave way to abrupt halts that punctuated the baile with an austere clarity that sent chills through the crowd. Twisting shapes, accurate unison, and ardent clapping fell upon the room as singer Bárbara Martínez called out into the darkness. Beautiful technicians and haunting visages, the women seemed to be involved in some sophisticated conversation of an old forgotten world, where the women were impossibly strong and passion was the necessity of life.
Rebeca Tomas starred in the final solo performance of the evening,"Alegrías." This piece paid tribute to the vibrant dances that are typical of Cádiz in southern Spain. Tomas was dressed in a traditional pink flamenco dress with full ruffled train and shawl. Sometimes holding the skirt, sometimes using a series of kicks to move it aside, the skirt became another vital component of the dance. Being a structured improv, it was fascinating to watch the musicians locked into Tomas' feet and rhythms as they, in turn, answered back with their calls. It was a thrilling communication between dancer and musician.
Painting the landscape and interpreting the poetry of the gypsies from the day of yore, the musicians were in every way as vital as the dancers. Flamenco music, with its heavy rhythmic influences, microtonality, palmas (clapping of the rhythms), and vivacity expressed as shouts from the musicians during the song, created a backbone so strong it was impossible to see the dance without the music. David Castellano and Bárbara Martínez were the singers, Alí Bello was on violin, and Jose Moreno on percussion. Pedro Cortés played guitar, as well as compose the original music and serve as musical director.
For many, if not most of the performers, flamenco is a part of their heritage and blood line. It is not merely an expression, but the vitality in which they live. CINCO POR CINCO was a stirring example of this living art form and gave the audience a taste of what they will no doubt fervently seek again. The next time you want to disappear into the clutches of Spanish culture, yelling "Olé!" to the fiery performers onstage, while listening to some of the best flamenco music in New York City, check out A Palo Seco.
Photo Credit: Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.