‘Flamenco, Flamenco’ offers new insights into a centuries-old dance form

Musical elements remain as powerful as ever

This is a still from the trailer for Flamenco, Flamenco. Image from YouTube

I remembered that I had seen Carlos Saura’s colorful film about Flamenco many years ago, after I learned that the Historic Asolo Theater had scheduled a screening of Flamenco, Flamenco, a film by Saura, the Spanish director.

At first, I was not sure that I wanted to see the film once again; then I decided to revisit my old memory and bought a ticket. But as the opening credits roamed through time and painterly images of Flamenco dancers in the 18th and 19th centuries, I realized that this visually stunning depiction of the Andalusian art of music and dance known as Flamenco was not the film that I had seen back in the 20th century.

Both Flamenco, Flamenco and the documentary film Mr. GaGa — about Ohad Naharin, the Israeli choreographer — which I also saw recently — were not an official part of the Art of Performance series sponsored by the Ringling Museum. I thought of them as an introduction to the performances scheduled for the next seven months and had signed up for both screenings.

Though not the same as seeing on-stage live performances, the Historic Asolo Theater’s super-sized screen, which must be as high as a three-story building, creates an experience more life-like and intense than watching a film on an ordinary screen. Of course, in truth, a film of a dance performance is second best, but in November we all will have the chance to compare the film experience of a Flamenco performance with a performance by a visiting Flamenco company.

I have always thought of Flamenco as basically Gypsy (Romani) in origin, but I know now that it is based on various folkloric music and dances from Andalusia (Southern Spain) and reflects a cross-cultural mix, including native Andalusions, Romani, Moors, Castillians and Sephardi Jews.

Flamenco dance, in my experience, has always been a dizzying expression — the sound of castanets clicking, heels stomping, and women swirling in lavishly colorful dresses before arrogant male dancers, while accompanying soulful, passionate music and song throb as though with the aching of emotions. It took only a few minutes to realize that my original expectations about Flamenco have, like my understanding of the world around us, remained only somewhat the same. With no choice available, I adjusted to the changes I was seeing on the screen as an updated, 21st century interpretation of this unique art form unfolded before my eyes.

Brilliant young soloists now use fluid, eloquent hand gestures to replace the clicking castanets. Additionally, they wear simple street clothing that allows them more freedom of movement than the flowery ruffled dresses. The romantic duets are replaced by incredible soloists, both male and female, independently reinterpreting traditional forms such as Alegriasand/or Bularias.

But it is the aural elements — elderly men poring over guitars, and both men and women of all ages singing about lost love and other painful, personal situations in the throbbing rawness of the traditional music — that remain as powerful as ever. I admired the sharpness and complexity of rhythms in the young dancers’ footwork, as well as the self-assurance in their arrogant attitude; but it was the sounds of the centuries in the singers’ wailing, passionate voices, tumbling out from the secret places in their hearts and souls, that connected my own feelings and emotions to the super-sized artists on the giant screen.

Up next: I am looking forward to a weekend with Indian dancers. As a teenager, I studied Indian dance. With that memory, I decided to sign up for the workshop. It should be both a challenge and an interesting experience.

1 thought on “‘Flamenco, Flamenco’ offers new insights into a centuries-old dance form”

  1. Excellent review, as always, by Ms Rogosin. Made me want to see the movie, but alas, it is not playing there now. I appreciate the advance info about the Indian dance film. Could we have a calendar notice of future dance events, live or on film?

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