Flamenco Festival opens with flurry of footwork by dancers at Lisner Auditorium

Fans braved freezing temperatures and treacherous streets Tuesday to crowd Lisner Auditorium for the Gala Flamenca that ushered in the Flamenco Festival 2014 with a lineup of the legends and young lions at the top of their art.

This event has been touted as featuring three dance generations, and stars Antonio Canales, Carlos Rodríguez, Karime Amaya and Jesús Carmona were listed in the program by seniority.

But prime time goes on for decades in flamenco, and the common denominators of all of these artists were breathtaking technical skill and breakneck speed. The concert’s constant was a wealth of rhythms, enriched by Miguel El Cheyenne’s virtuosic percussion on cajón, the Peruvian “box,” a flamenco staple. Its popularity is credited to the late guitarist Paco de Lucía, who pioneered other fusions that propelled the tradition forward while respecting its essence.

Fusion in that vein certainly marked some of the choreography on display. Multiple musicians, including violinist Roman Gottwald, accompanied Rodríguez, whose classical pirouettes and flourishes of footwork blurred the boundaries between classical ballet and flamenco’s quintessential sol­eares. A concert highlight was the improbably named TrillA7, performed only to cajón. It spotlighted Carmona and Lucia Campillo in austere, alternating solos on opposite corners of the stage before joining them in the sweep and sculpted angularity of contemporary concert dance.

Canales signaled a transition to undiluted flamenco with his Tangos de la Chumbera. Another evening standout, it brought the entire cast onstage to clap layered counterpoint from the sidelines as the veteran performer beat out footwork cadences tempered by his trademark waggish humor.

Carmona’s hard-driving pyrotechnics made his alegrías a tough act to follow, and Amaya had the honor of performing last. Earlier she had blended into a delightful trio of women fluttering fans and swirling ruffled trains in an up-tempo caracoles. But in her seguiriyas finale, she exploded into a powerhouse who could hold the stage alone, her footwork as strong as any in the business.

The great-niece of the iconic Carmen Amaya, she easily measured up to her pedigree and promised to push even higher the ever-escalating standards of contemporary flamenco.

Durbin is a freelance writer.

The festival continues through March 19.

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