GALA Hispanic Theatre presents an eighteenth season of its flamenco festival in an expanded series, including three full-length programs over three weeks. Judging from its opening night program, Cerrando el círculo, and a company new to GALA’s lineup, this is going to be one glorious celebration.
Director and Choreographer Antonio Granjero has performed in pretty much every major dance venue and before numerous heads of state, including Her Majesty, the late Queen Elizabeth II. He moved his company from Madrid to Santa Fe in 2011, where he runs a teaching center and makes his base there for international collaborations. He has been called the “Baryshnikov of Spanish Dance.”
For Cerrando el círculo, Granjero returned to the roots of traditional flamenco in Andalusia. The ensemble of three dancers, two singers, and a guitarist take turns calling up a beloved repertoire, filling the stage at times with much sound and fury. Do I only imagine that there is greater nostalgia, pathos, and urgency in their dancing and singing as we gather together in the dark in a world made so precarious recently by war, plagues, and madness?
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of moments of sheer joy shared on stage and in the audience. It’s a cross between watching a tight jazz ensemble taking turns to improvise and a Black Church Sunday morning when people get “lit up” with the spirit and call out. This audience is part of the show and the olés keep on coming.
The first number begins with singer Momi Cádiz in darkness then a taut circle of light. His plaintive cries conjure the ensemble on stage. “El Trini” (Francisco Luis Trinidad Angel) joins him with deep throaty sounds. Then all join in a fast-paced celebratory Bulerías.
In the Farruca that follows, we are privy to a “conversation” in dance and music between Granjero and Juan José Alba, a super flamenco guitarist, and they go at it, with such intentional listening and shifting between slow then fast finger-plucking and syncopated footwork. I love the trademark somatic gesture of a flamenco dancer: Granjero has this slightly cheeky flip of his wrist as if his hand is tossing over his shoulder the thing he just performed, “Not bad; it’s nothing.” Granjero is indeed signaling, “I’m just warming up.
But then he reveals that this company has a secret weapon. If Granjero is “the Baryshnikov…” then I’ll pen Angel Muñoz as the “Benedict Cumberbatch of flamenco dance-drama.” He stretches out an impossibly long leg, his eyes follow the unfolding limb, daring us to follow his every extension, only to snap focus with a head swivel and redirect our focus. Every elegant move seems to be motivated by a specific thought, a feeling. Focus changes are swift, precise, as befits mastery of flamenco technique. When he crosses in a diagonal, he eats up the stage. His hands and arms are captivating, filled with energy, never superfluous. Even the way he tugs his suit jacket is dramatically telling us something about his character. ¡Guapo!
Estefania Ramirez is certainly the queen of this show. She is both co-director of the company and a strong dancer. She “owned” the traditional Soleá, gracing the emotional tone of the dance-theme of solitude with her beautiful port de bras and emotional expression. I did think her first dress, a gorgeous champagne-colored affair with long train, seemed nonetheless so bulky and stiff she seemed at times to be wading through heavy drapery. She later sprang to freedom with a costume that let her upper body soar, while her kicky contemporary footwear enabled her to clatter away with eye-stopping finesse. ¡La reina!
Granjero takes to the stage again in dancing an Alegrías, that most lively and, as its name suggests, joyful of forms with its marked twelve-beat attacks. It starts slowly. He circles. He stops. A new punctuating pattern. The dance builds. The man’s nimble footwork drives into the stage like a jackhammer. You think he’s done. But no, wave after wave, he punishes the floor and then suddenly delicately, his heels and then the ball of his foot demonstrate flawless technique – tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tattat-tattat-tattat — all with lightning speed. Then that gesture again, the arm bends at the elbow, and with a flick of the wrist, and over the shoulder, he throws it all away. ¡que bonito!
The finale brought us a traditional bulerías, where the company forms a semi-circle and everyone takes a turn to show off in pure festive delight, whipped up appreciatively by the others with clapping and shouts. ¡olé!
This is world-class flamenco.
Starting November 4, choreographer and dancer Edwin Aparicio brings his DC-based company to the stage in Flamenco Men, celebrating the masculine energy of flamenco. Aparicio has curated the entire festival that he founded eighteen years ago. It is a gift to our community with his goal being “to expose as many people and many ages to flamenco as possible.” He always brings internationally recognized stars of flamenco but also spotlights “local American dancers and companies because we have good American flamenco.” Last year, Aparicio and troupe knocked my socks off with his radical, autobiographic tale of an El Salvadoran immigrant’s journey told through flamenco. He caught the pulse of the Hispanic multi-cultural Mount Pleasant community through the eyes of a teenage newcomer while remaining respectful of the great flamenco tradition.
This year he promises to present something maybe even more radical by exploring the masculine energy of flamenco. Flamenco Men plays November 4 to 6 and promises to add a serious contribution to our society’s current conversation, breaking down the barriers between traditional feminine and masculine. In flamenco, the feminine form focuses on the upper body while the male form stressed machismo footwork. Co-choreographer Sara Jíminez promises a surprise in the program, pushing the envelope to celebrate masculinity from a female perspective.
A third event, November 10 to 13, adds depth and musical richness to the festival with Alejandra, in a personal tribute by guitarist José Almarcha to his mother.
The festival continues through November 13 for three weeks’ viewing of different companies performing plus kid-friendly interactive flamenco experiences.
Running Time for Cerrando el círculo: 90 minutes without intermission.
The 18th international Fuego Flamenco Festival will run for two more weeks through November 13, 2022, at the GALA Theatre, 3333 14th Street NW, Washington, DC. Single tickets are $48 Thursday through Sunday; senior (65+), student, and military tickets are $35. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 202-234-7174 or visit www.galatheatre.org.
COVID Safety: Masks are mandatory. Proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test (taken within 72 hours prior to show time) is required for all patrons ages 5+.
Exclusive preview of GALA’s 18th international Fuego Flamenco Festival (feature interview with Abel López, GALA’s associate producing director, and Edwin Aparicio, festival creator and curator, by Gwyneth Sholar, October 28, 2022)