Fanny Ara in 'Forever Flamenco!'(Courtesy of Optimage Photography)

Fanny Ara in ‘Forever Flamenco!’
(Courtesy of Optimage Photography)

Of all the audiences drawn to the performing arts, the most visually stunning, as a whole, must be those you find at dance presentations, and those whom you find in attendance for “Flamenco” are hands down the cream of that crop.

Flamenco aficionados are almost the most committed of the breed, perhaps because no artistic halfway point is permitted. You can have ballet without an accompanying classical score, you can even have interpretative dance with any musical score, but take the cante from the toque or the baile from the palmas and whatever you have certainly isn’t flamenco.

The majority of the arts have evolved outward from their origins, and in doing so they lost their primal potency, the intensity of their source. Sadly, I haven’t undergone a cathartic experience in the theatre in ages. But Flamenco holds fast to its dark and tragic history, and the pain that breathes life into the cante jondo is as recognizable and profound today as it was three centuries ago. We all know that mournful sound, it is as the Romani would say, “the wound of your true spirit”.

Maria Bermundez, one of the world’s most renowned flamenco artists, on the night of “Flamenco” emerged into a halo of light to address the audience with words chosen from “Heart Song”, a work concerning the regenerative properties of the music and dance of flamenco, which she both choreographed and performed in during the opening weeks. (The play by Steven Sachs is now gracing the stage at the Fountain Theatre.)

Those words promise the audience the quality of fire with the melding of grace and raw power. A promise which explodes on the stage in the form of dancer Timo Nuñez (with guitarist José Tamaka and singers José Cortez and Ismael do la Rosa) in a “cante jondo”, the traditional “deep song” of flamenco that deals with the darkish corners of the human soul. Numez’s performance was enough to have stars themselves leaning in for a better look.

There were perhaps those who worried the rest of the show couldn’t match the force and excitement of that opening. They were wrong. Ara Fanny took the stage next and, for a while, it seemed she should just take it home with her, because she truly did own it (along with guitarist Jason McGuire and singers José Cortez, Ana de los Reyes and Ismael do la Rosa).

Jason McGuire comes to the stage with only his guitar. That’s more than enough. His mastery of the Toque Virtuoso (Virtuous Touch) fills the theatre near to bursting, finding in his strings more voices than you could in two Mormon Tabernacle Choirs.

Like a crazed, inverted pyramid, the evening keeps building on top of itself. Yaelisa, another of the stellar names in flamenco, performs an Alegrias, one of the strictest forms of the “baile”, flawlessly. The first portion of the show finishes with a cuadro flamencos (a troupe of dancers) featuring Rocio Ponce, Lourdes Rodriguez and Mizuho Sato, a Japanese flamenco dancer attesting to the odd fact that Japan now boasts of having more flamenco academies than Spain does.

The opening of the show’s second half doesn’t end intermission, it obliterates it. In Manuel Gutierrez we see one of the truths of the art, that nothing expresses the masculine vigor in dance as flamenco. His performance (accompanied only by singers José Cortez and Ismael de la Rosa) of traditional “martinete”, a dance set to the rhythm of a blacksmith’s hammer beating an anvil, a stunning pairing of power and precision, creates a poetry of motion.

The evening closes with a parade of flamenco’s most illustrious names; guitarist Adam del Monte and dancers Linda Vega, Alejandro Granados. But the audience and the dancers were gathered that night to celebrate something other than an ancient and glorious performance art; they were there to honor the force behind the evening, Deborah Lawlor (the co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre with Steven Sachs) who founded and has captained the “Forever Flamenco!” series for past twenty years.

Here’s hoping for another twenty years and more.

Jaleo! Jaleo! Jaleo!