'Ole!' Fiery flamenco the dance of passion

Monday, July 14, 2008

WHEN he takes the stage, flamenco master Rafael Amargo has one goal: to make the audiences "vibrate with emotion and feeling," to make them laugh and cry and shout. "Ole!" screams Nie Xin.

One of the world's best-known flamenco dancers, Rafael Amargo from Spain is a movie star in Europe and a celebrity often featured on glossy magazine covers. He is also an innovative choreographer who has turned the world of Don Quixote into a Japanese video game on stage.

Amargo is described as "a national treasure of Spain." The newspaper El Mundo described him as "having drunk from the fountains of the most pure flamenco."

Last Saturday night, Amargo and his troupe, after performing in Beijing ("Don Quixote - Passenger in Transit") under the invitation of organizers of Beijing Olympic Games, put on a show of hottest flamenco at the Ballantine's party in Shanghai Sculpture Space. The audiences were enthralled by the passionate music and dance of the Andalusian people.

"I always focus on expressing my passion for the audiences, so they will experience something unforgettable - I want to take their breath away," Amargo tells Shanghai Daily. "In all art, you must connect and touch the audiences. Art is a shared experience."

Amargo, sinewy and sexy, wore black suits and a white shirt. The screen behind him glowed with the projection of flames. The female dancers in white each wore a big red flower in their hair. The female voices were filled with passion and power. The guitars evoked ancient Andalusian mystery and modern passion. The dancers stamped their feet, with the sound of heels another rhythm of the heart.

Amargo danced in a way that brought flamenco firmly into the 21st century while managing to preserve the traditional structure of the dance, and its spirit. "To me, the most beautiful characteristic of flamenco is the simultaneous combination of strength and subtlety," says Amargo, 33. "Through dance you can show such a range of feelings and emotions, which are all heightened by the union of dance, guitar and song - the three essentials join in one art."

Amargo started learning flamenco when he was nine years old and got his first professional contract at 13. When he was a boy he watched the film "Carmen" by Carlos Saura, with the flamenco master Antonio Gades.
"It made me feel that flamenco was my true love. From that day I started to dance and act, and have not stopped ever since," Amargo says.

He has received four Max Awards (top honor in Spanish scenic arts), two awards for Best Dancer and Best Dancing Show in "Amargo;" a Best Dancer Award for "El Amor Brujo" ("Love, the Magician," 2003), and a Best Dancer Award for "Poeta en Nueva York" ("New York Poet").

Amargo founded his flamenco company, Nacencia, 11 years ago, and has worked in the most important theaters and flamenco festivals worldwide.

His family gives him 100-percent support. "My father likes flamenco as well and wanted to be a dancer when he was young, but my grandfather wouldn't permit it. I am so lucky that I became the pride of my parents."

Efforts to "update" flamenco and incorporate other dance elements are tricky, and many of them fail. Amargo is a maestro in this arena. He has successfully imported contemporary dance and other styles that are distinctly non-flamenco. The incorporations are so seamless that it is hard to see from "where" the steps and moves originate.

"Don Quixote - Passenger in Transit" is one of the best examples - Don Quixote's world is translated into a Japanese video game.

Before his one-night show in Shanghai, Amargo had already performed "Don Quixote" at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing last Wednesday and Thursday. Juan Antonio Samaranch, former Spanish chairman of the International Olympic Committee, called the show "unforgettable" and Amargo "a pioneer of flamenco arts."

To Amargo, the audiences' reaction is much more important than official raves. "To make the audiences vibrate with emotion and feeling, to make them laugh, cry and to hear them shout 'Ole!' - this is the passion of flamenco," he says. "This is why we dance in the towns of Andalusia, to feel these emotions and passion."

This is also why people from all over the world come to watch and to be carried away in this passion. "To feel the audiences from all cultures share in something pure Andalusian - this is the most rewarding of all," Amargo says.

With such fanfare and critical success, Amargo still enjoys simple pleasures. "The happiest thing to me is to wake up with my sons and enjoy a simple meal," he smiles.

By Nie Xin


July 14, 2008

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