Unless this is your first time perusing the fine pages of Working Author and the ramblings of yours truly, you will know I am an aficionado (some would say, “meth-fueled cheerleader”) of the monthly Forever Flamenco! series at the Fountain Theatre.
I have called it before, I will call it again, “Forever Flamenco!” is the best ticket in L.A. Doesn’t matter what month, the series itself is a showcase for talent of a staggering level, so pick a month, any month. Just go. Because thanks to the drive and dedication of artistic director Deborah Lawlor, L.A. is regarded as a center for the “tiene tablas” of international Flamenco with the Fountain Theatre as both “peña” and epicenter.
Now in this final month of 2014 I’ve had the good fortune of attending two evenings there, one for the regular monthly performance, the second the holiday show. I’ll be writing about both here. You could even entitle this humble homily, “Stupendous and Stupendous-er”. (Actual, no.)
However the two shows exhibit everything that serves to substantiate my statement about “best ticket.” Okay, I admit, my objective here is to somehow get your hindquarters into one of the monthly shows. To that end, allow me to bring before you a vocabulary of Flamenco terms to both help you understand this review and others and to give you a deeper sense of what Flamenco offers:
A PALO SECO without accompaniment.
BAILAOR, BAILAORA a dancer of Flamenco. All other dancers are “bailarin”.
BRACEO the movement of a dancer’s arms.
CANTAOR, CANTAORA Flamenco singer; other singers are generally called a “cantantes”.
CANTE Flamenco song; other (non-Flamenco) songs are cantos.
CANTE JONDO (“deep song”). The most identifiable song of Flamenco, it speaks of anguish, of despair, yet infuses into the tragic the innermost beauty that is life.
CANTE PA’ADELANTE a solo sung by the cantaor or cantaora, not performed for the dancers. Literally: “singing from in front”.
CANTE PA’ATRAS just the opposite, “singing from behind”; for the dancers. One of Flamenco’s unique elements is that the singer and dancer can be standing side by side.
ESCOBILLA a section of a dance in which the bailaor/bailaora carries out an extended zapateados
JALEO vocal encouragement called out by the audience to the performers.
JARANA “spree” when a group enjoys themselves doing Flamenco.
OPPOSICIÓN describes the asymmetrical nature of Flamenco, wherein the dancer tries to move in opposition to that visual alignment most other forms of dance strive for.
PALMAS a very precise and stylized clapping of the hands.
PALMAS SORDAS a muted clapping done with cupped hands by singers or dancers; also called palmas graves.
PEÑA Flamenco club.
PITOS finger snapping.
TABLAS (“boards”); the stage on which the dancers perform; “Tiene tablas” signifies one who is a master of the dancer.
TOCAOR/TOCAORA a guitarist; (“tocar” to play).
TOQUE guitar playing.
TORSIÓN Y CONVULSIÓN a stage wherein the dancer enters a state of near ecstasy.
ZAPATEO, ZAPATEADO the style of “tap” dancing particular to Flamenco; (from “zapato” shoe).
Someone once said (it might have been me) that the tyranny of life’s inescapable sorrows may only be faced with courage or a chuckle. (Yeah that sounds pompous enough to be me.) The two shows of December succeeded in spreading between them a sense of the immensity of the emotional scope capable of expression through the exquisite elegance that is Flamenco.
The first show on the 7th of December and the second on the 20th were each showcases of the joyous passions life offers and the impassioned defiance it demands. The two shows featured familiar faces whose presences I have grown to regard as pledges that I shall be witness to magic before the evening ends. Antonio Triana is one of the series artistic directors the constant rotation of which layers each month’s show with freshness. He served as the show’s tocaor, along with Gabriel Lautaro Osuna the evening’s guest guitarist whose playing sustains such garra (“guts”, “vitality”) it requires him to reinforce the calluses of his hands with coats of Super Glue to give added protection to his fingertips. I do not know one serious guitarist who does not look on the toque of Flamenco with awe.
Opera needs a symphony, ballet necessitates an orchestra, on the stage of the Fountain you had Osuna and Triana, who were joined by percussionist Gerardo Morales. The three of them together could match any philharmonic in the country note for note, and then some.
At one point Triana and Osuna played off against one another for an extended set. With the driving tempo they maintained and the power they produced, I couldn’t help thinking, if Deep Blue and Hal had souls and played guitar this is what their cover of Dueling Banjos would be like.
The performance’s cantaor was Antonio de Jerez, one of the mainstays of “Forever Flamenco!” whose singing has set the standard for the series, and that standard is set at spectacular.
The show of the 7th boasted a trio of bailaora, Pamela Lourant, Bianca Rodriguez and Japanese-born Mizuho Sato who is a testament to the international appeal of Flamenco. While watching them perform, I was conscious of the fact that the next bailaora I see who isn’t a smoldering firestorm of sensuality will be the first.
Manuel Gutiérrez graced both shows with his matchless dancing and did double duty as the artistic director for the show of the 20th. Gutiérrez, who could be the poster boy for Flamenco in Los Angeles, displays in his footwork a driving fury you expect will have the theatre reverberating with sonic booms as he ruptures the sound barrier.
Keeping apace with Gutiérrez would undoubtedly prove a challenge to all but a few of the most gifted bailaora, but Maria “Cha Cha” Bermúdez is most assuredly one of those few.
The show opened with cante pa’atras of the small cuadro (Flamenco troupe). Andrés Vadin’s guitar was the sole instrument present, but from it he conjured forth music bejeweled in the unalloyed quality of uncluttered passion.
As the dancers paired with the two cantaors they shared the stage with, Pelé De los Reyes and Jesus Motoya, I settled back In my seat and prepared to bask In the magic I knew was coming. One of the wonderful attributes of the “Forever Flamenco!” series is the staggering intimacy the Fountain Theatre offers the performers and their audiences. I found myself mesmerized by Bermúdez’s “braceo” (the use of the arms to achieve opposición in a performance).
It seemed as though her hands and limbs had transformed into the branches of some great tree whipped by the relentless wind of an uncaring storm.
Almost immediately the jaleos flew forth from the audience. Arsa! Toma! Olé! Calls to those on stage of praise and encouragement. They continued throughout the performance.
There is something unique to Flamenco. If the majority of dance forms are, as I find them, forlorn acts of defiance against the insurmountable confines of earthly existence, i.e. gravity, physical constraints and weaknesses, then only Flamenco imbues its artisans with the belief, yes, quixotic as it is, that they can not only defy those limitations but defeat them. The power of Flamenco is that in watching it, you come to believe they might.
“Forever Flamenco!” has ended for 2014. In January of 2015 “Forever Flamenco!” will begin its 23rd season of monthly shows which has established a small theatre off the beaten path in Hollywood as one of Flamenco’s greatest peña and Los Angeles as one of Flamenco’s greatest city.
Information regarding the monthly presentations of the “Forever Flamenco!” series can be found by visiting www.fountaintheatre.com online.