The intimate setting of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center was treated to six electrifying breakout performances by Andalucнa-born Rafael Amargo & Compaснa de Flamenco in his sixth flamenco production ‘Tiempo Muerto’ (Time Out) September 5-11 here in Los Angeles.
A native of Granada, deep in the heartland of Flamenco, Amargo draws from his roots to create a language all his own meshing an eclectic mix of modern elements and pure flamenco artistry.
With clean, modern, unvarnished staging, and partially exposed cement back wall between divided curtains, Amargo combines modern elements with contemporary influences: bold lighting patterns, exquisite costuming, and intimate staging in a surprisingly fresh and expressive language.
The strong musical opening from all members included the memorable cello of John Krovoza, augmented by the superior guitar playing from Eduardo Cortйs and Josй Andrйs Cortйs. Bassist Leonardo Osorio mixed riffs with heart-pounding percussion offered by Antonio Maya and Rodney Dassis followed by lightning-quick palmas and earthy, smoldering cante from both Maite Maya and Carmina Cortйs. Musical director Juan Parrilla’s lyrical flute weaved seamlessly throughout, setting the tone and driving force for dazzling musicianship.
“Tiempo Muerto” por Siguiriya featured tempo-setting contratiempo palmas matching the quick-stepped entrance from company dancers, Eli Ayala, Carmen Iglesias, Rosa Jimenez, and Susi Parra in hooded black smocks, and black patent boots and arm bands. They began with tight military-styled footwork patterns in a blue spot-lit floor. Soon the choreography swayed and transformed into multiple austere arrangements with Amargo entering and leaving.
Martha Graham once said, “The body says what words cannot.” As a student of Graham’s Contemporary Dance New York School in 1996, Amargo clearly understands this. A powerhouse exposed, outlined by a blinding single light, Amargo expressed a depth of artistry, quiet yet regal, as he played off the energy of the musicians in a dazzling ‘Martinete’ with all cast onstage.
Next, a fuscha shawl is isolated in a spotlight. Dancer Eli Ayala enters, approaches and slowly drags the shawl from the floor for a riveting, and physically powerful Soleб. Ayala’s crisp staccato footwork and successive vuelta que bradas (deep back turns) accelerate along with masterful shawl-work ultimately ending in a twisted caressed embrace.
“Fandangos por Granada” presented by white-clad Amargo and dancer Susi Parra offered successive waves of footwork attacking and receding in energetic improvisations that masterfully revealed their supple and evocatively unique styles. Black-attired with short-styled bolero jackets company dancers joined them with accented castanet playing, punctuating the expressive choreography.
An irresistible highlight included performances by Eli Ayala and Susi Parra in “Matanzas” (The Slaughters) dressed in red fitted skirts and tops squaring off in a white-lit rectangle flanked on opposite sides by two sets of musicians as if set to battle; soloing in two distinct styles of matching superiority and intensity. The clarity of rhythm and exceptional sense of pacing brought gasps of unexpected pleasure from the audience. Amargo then emerged in a tassel-clad red suit to perform a rebellious “Alegria” to resounding cheers.
An impassioned flute solo by Juan Parrilla’s, against the backdrop of a closed curtain, launched Amargo’s “Suelto como Gavete.” Juan Parrilla, a celebrated musician and flamenco composer has previously worked alongside notable flamenco artists such as Antonio Canales and Joaquin Cortйs. Parrilla’s musical concept is certainly adjacent to Rafael’s – both have conceived modern variations on flamenco themes.
After the intensity of the other palos, the delightful, tongue-in-cheek air Amargo revealed his playful nature and acting prowess. The curtain opened to all musicians playing feverishly in Ray Bans under playful amber and white checker-board lighting. Amargo’s entire body transformed, as he raised his shirt, and played coquettishly with the music in an infectious “Tangos.”
Also notable were exceptional gutsy performances by company dancers Rosa Jimenez, and Carmen Iglesias. Additionally, costumes designed by Amaya Arzuaga, and lighting designs by Nicholas Fischtel played an equal part in this presentation.
The theatrical nature of the production, with its sparse but effective set, the polished lighting, and the ravishing costumes equaled the flare and individual expression of the musicianship, choreography, and performances. The finale, an authentic, high-spirited “fin de fiesta” toyed with the audience in a wonderful give and take that brought everyone to their feet with resounding applause.
A final note of congratulations and thanks to Julio and Denise Bove of Bosco Entertainment for bringing this exceptional flamenco performance to Southern California.
By Beth Nesbitt, Flamenco Buzz Correspondent