Correction: An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect age for Aleksey Kulikov and the year he immigrated to the United States. He is 32 and immigrated at age 15. This version has been corrected.
Edwin Aparicio and Aleksey Kulikov had been together for more than a dozen years when in July they finally could be married. Although the two say they’ve stayed together longer than many of their straight friends, they believe their flamenco performance, “1 + 1,” which will have its world premiere as part of GALA Hispanic Theatre’s “Fuego Flamenco IX,” wouldn’t have happened without their wedding.
“Absolutely, it inspired us,” Kulikov said. “Society can see us together. Not, ‘Oh, those are lovers, those are boyfriends, those are partners.’ Those words don’t work. . . . That definition gives us this extra context of, we are a couple.”
Kulikov, 32, immigrated to the United States from Ukraine at 15 and trained as a ballroom dancer before finding flamenco in his new home of Baltimore. That’s how he met Aparicio, 37, who left his native, then war-torn, El Salvador when he was 11 years old and moved to Mount Pleasant. Aparicio had studied and performed flamenco in Spain. Just like in all the best dance movies, they fell in love through their art. They live in Silver Spring.
“We both are alpha personalities who learned how to live together, how to assert ourselves as individuals,” Kulikov said. “And we got married in this context where we could not have been married before, so all of a sudden society sees you as a couple and has to accept you as a couple. It presented this interesting set of conflicts — how do we reconcile this for ourselves and for the world around us? And in the arts, that’s where these ideas are explored. . . . In flamenco, it’s all about teamwork and collaboration, and if something breaks in the collaboration, the whole thing just collapses.”
A popular misperception about flamenco, Kulikov said, is that people “only think of the dance” when, in reality, the singer and guitarist are equally important components. “They have to be so connected,” Kulikov said. Flamenco, in this way, has more in common with jazz than it does with other types of dance. “You have this level of constant awareness about each other. In flamenco, the audience sees an individual, a dancer ripping his heart out. What they don’t realize is that his entire existence up to that point is dependent on the group.”
Aparicio and Kulikov choreographed and co-directed the piece. Aparicio will dance as well, along with Norberto Chamizo from Madrid, Genevieve Guinn from Austin and Anna Menéndez from Baltimore.
Aparicio wanted the choreography of “1 + 1” to incorporate “a lot of individuality within the dancers. . . . We wanted to give the artist that extra voice within their personalities.
“This is not a normal thing for flamenco,” he said. “It’s pretty rare that you use it as an actual instrument as opposed to, ‘What do you mean, I’m not just doing my solo?’ ”
Aparicio and Kulikov have known the other dancers in “1 + 1” for years, but this collaborative choreography “is not easy,” Aparicio said. “We are four individual choreographers and people trying to work as a cohesive unit.” The process “has surprised me in a positive way, because I thought giving so many people a voice could be dangerous. That could be a recipe for disaster.”
But Aparicio is glad he stuck it out. “We had to learn to hear each other out and compromise,” he said. “All of our voices have been heard.”
“Flamenco is extremely individual,” Kulikov said. “What we value is not just the technique. We value how original their movement is. The word that we use for that is sincerity. If it’s too studied, in flamenco, it’s not considered to be sincere. So this particular show is a platform for people to be at their most sincere.”
Friday through Sunday at the GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW, 202-234-7174, www.galatheatre.org.