February has become my absolute favorite month of the entire year. It’s better than Christmas, it’s better than my birthday, and I don’t even care that it’s freezing outside! What, you might ask, is the reason for this obsession? Why, the Flamenco Festival of course! Every year since 2001, NYC hosts one of the biggest and best dance festivals in conjunction with the World Music Institute. They bring dancers, singers, guitarists, music groups and a little Olé direct from Spain and scatter it all through the city. Just last Thursday I went to a gallery opening called No Singing Allowed. It’s a collection of flamenco photographs that spans one hundred and fifty years of history. At the opening there was even a live flamenco performance by the world renowned dancer Pastora Galván.
The photographs – some black and white, a few in color, are really wonderful, and showcase famous artists from the past hundred and fifty years as well as anonymous gypsies from remote locations. From family gatherings in Seville, Spain to images from the original tablaos – the cafés cantantes: a type of bar where flamenco shows were put on nightly, to a man with his guitar sitting on a chair in the middle of nowhere in Bulgaria, the exhibit did a great job highlighting the essence of Flamenco dance. It’s an art form that sprang from the gypsy culture and was fueled by the need of the most marginalized and oppressed members of Andalusian society to express how they felt. From palos or rhythms such as Alegrías – which means happiness, to Soleares – which means solitude, Flamenco has an emotional range that isn’t present in any other dance form. It was such an inspiration to see these images and it really did a wonderful job bridging the gap between a very lively art form and a seemingly static one.
On Friday I took a contemporary/flamenco dance class with the amazing Rocío Molina at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. It was the best way to wake up (it started at 10am) and the studio had the best view of lower Manhattan from the 6th floor! I really felt that the class offered an opportunity to learn from each other and share with each other regardless of our different levels. Rocío even had students teach their own improvised combinations to the rest of the class and she learned them too! It was such a surreal experience to have one of the biggest names in the Flamenco dance world stand next to me and learn my friend’s 15-second combination.
But I hope that this will be the future of Flamenco dance. Having already become best known as a mix of different cultures, from Arabic and Sefardic influences, to the more recent Carribbean and African influences and even Tap and Contemporary Modern additions, I think that the only way that Flamenco can move forward and can continue to pride itself on its crazy combination of cultures, it has to take a page out of Rocío Molina’s book and not be afraid to try something new.
This weekend is THE weekend. On Thursday I’m going to the Gala Flamenca – a performance by a number of very well known artists, Friday is Rocío Molina’s company (I CAN’T WAIT!), and Saturday – Sunday will be a performance by the legendary María Pagés. I really feel like a kid in a candy store when it comes to the month of February. Forget chocolates this Valentine’s Day (unless they’re Ferrero Rocher…Mmmmm…) and get some Spanish culture in your life! It’s better than Christmas, it’s better than my birthday, it’s completely freezing outside but I’ve got my February Flamenco love to keep me warm. Olé!
Mary Baird CC ’10