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'Flamenco Deconstructed'

Flamenco Aparicio Dance Company with guest artist Omayra Amaya

by Carmel Morgan

December 5, 2009 -- GALA Hispanic Theatre, Washington, DC

My newest winter holiday tradition is bundling up to go see a flamenco performance, rather than taking in yet another tired Nutcracker.  Although I’m far more familiar with ballet technique than flamenco, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the proud traditions and fiery beauty of that art form.  To the contrary, during the time of year when I’m typically feeling smothered by too much Tchaikovsky and Sugar Plum Fairies, I hunger for something offering more substance, and flamenco definitely delivers.

This year’s flamenco indulgence was a performance by local flamenco artist Edwin Aparicio, one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2009, and his company, the Flamenco Aparicio Dance Company.  They presented “Flamenco Deconstructed,” a powerful exploration of flamenco’s rhythms, moods, and influences.  Joined by Omayra Amaya, whose great aunt is the legendary flamenco artist Carmen Amaya, the company put on a fantastic show that one couldn’t help but thoroughly enjoy.  On the day of DC’s first snowfall of the season, flamenco completely thawed the audience.

Thankfully, there were no children in pink tutus to be found.  Instead, the women who opened the performance in “Guajiras,” a piece flavored by Cuba, exuded mature sexiness in their long, colorful, ruffled skirts.  Although it’s doubtful all of Aparicio’s dancers, who are of various ethnic origins, share guest artist Omayra Amaya’s gypsy bloodline, in their well-rehearsed dancing they each projected incredible joy and passion that would surely make Amaya’s great aunt Carmen beam.  As the footwork grew faster, the dancers’ smiles grew wider, and they never lost their impressive precision.

“Farruca,” a duet featuring the handsome Timo Nuñez and Aleksey Kulikov, followed “Guajiras.”  The men, with their smoldering stares, looked uncannily like their teacher, Aparicio.  They danced with bravado, conjuring images of a cowboy crossed with a matador – dashing, daring, determined, and dignified.  My eyes followed as their long fingers extended high into the air above their heads in a snap or as their hands slapped their knees.  Although primarily reserved and controlled, there remained an exuberant quality to the dancing of these two men that kept my attention throughout.

Aparicio took a dazzling solo turn in “Taranto.”  His face was incredibly animated, reminding one of a Kung Fu master and, alternately, a muppet, since his expressions ranged from tremendous concentration to soft, endearing grins.  Aparicio showed off his muscular arms and his elegantly rotating wrists, as well as his strong footwork.  Especially exciting were his razor sharp pivots.  Claps and shouts of “Ole!” spontaneously erupted as he danced.  

In “Martinete/Siguerilla,” the entire cast, clad in black costumes resembling suits, looked a little like a group of DC area movers and shakers.  And move and shake they did!  The choreography here was fast and clean and together, despite the crowded stage.  Parallel arms from overhead slowly lowered to the dancers’ waists in unison.  Dramatic lines and stomps gave this section a sleek, modern feel.  Furthermore, the glorious sounds of the dancers’ feet and the thumps of the musicians in the background made one’s heart race to their rhythms.

Amaya performed “Soleá,” a solo in which she danced for well over 20 minutes with relentless vigor.  In tight black lace, with her hair dangling down, she bent backwards to an astonishing depth.  At times, eerily, she almost floated in circles.  She glided across the stage like a witch hovering just above the floor.  Also magic was the way her small hips rolled from side to side.  Although I’m no flamenco expert, I was sure I was watching one, and wild cheers from the audience confirmed it.

Amaya simply mesmerized.  Watching her, my eyes glued to her rippling skirt and her expressive arms that moved with the purpose of a conductor, was certainly one of the evening’s highlights.  Her movement built in intensity along with the music, and I wondered how it was that she continued to breathe without heaving. 

Aparicio closed the evening with another solo, “Alegrías.”  Here, he dazzled some more, tapping one foot in a rapid hammering motion, like a dog having a leg tremor, while keeping the rest of his body delightfully still.  As his movement became larger, so did his enthusiasm, which was contagious.

Aparicio directed the dancers, musicians, and technical staff in “Flamenco Deconstructed” extremely well.  He wisely made use of focus changes, musicality, and pacing to make the evening a huge success.  Andrew Scharwath’s lighting design was topnotch.  Finally, and perhaps most critically, the musicians accompanying Aparicio’s company, in particular the sparkling Isabel Soto Arjona, who is a cantaora for the National Ballet of Spain (and who as the performance wound down danced quite well herself), were utterly brilliant.  I eagerly swallowed, enrapt, all the holidays treats Aparicio served.

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