New York Flamenco Festival at New York City Center

Classic Arts Features   New York Flamenco Festival at New York City Center
There are few more famous names in flamenco than Farruco and Antonio Gades. This year, propitious programming brings the worlds of Gades and Farruco to the stage of New York City Center Feb. 19 _22 for the New York Flamenco Festival.

For over 40 years, Farruco and Gades have captured the world's imagination, until their deaths in 1997 and 2004 respectively. Both legendary performers, they are also remembered for other talents: Gades proved himself a brilliant choreographer, with the iconic works "Carmen," "Blood Wedding" and "El Amor Brujo;" while Farruco furthered the art of flamenco as the patriarch of a Gypsy dynasty remarkable for its artistry, particularly demonstrated by his daughters La Farruca and La Faraona, his grandson Farruco, and his grandnephew Barullo, all of whom trained at his school in Seville and now perform under the name Los Farruco.

This year, propitious programming brings the worlds of Gades and Farruco to the stage of New York City Center February 19 _22 for the New York Flamenco Festival, now in its 9th year. In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Gades' creation of "Carmen," the 25-member Antonio Gades Company will perform the electrifying dance drama, with formidably soulful artists Stella Arauzo and Adrian Galia in the leads. Los Farruco, four dazzling descendants of the great man, will offer a rousing program of traditional dance accompanied by six musicians and choreographed and directed by Farruco's grandson, Farruquito. "The program brings flamenco history right up to date," says Miguel Marin, co-producer of the festival with the World Music Institute. "The Gades and Farruco lineage could not be more authentically demonstrated nor their influence on these very contemporary productions be any clearer."

Gades' "Carmen" began life as the scenario for Carlos Saura's Oscar- winning film in 1983 about the Iberian heroine. To some extent, he wanted to counter the representation of her as a wanton and reprehensible character by the French author Merimee, whose story served as inspiration for Bizet's great opera. "Carmen is neither a frivolous woman," Gades said in an interview after its premiere, "nor a man-eater. She's just an honest woman who when she loves says she loves and when she doesn't love, says she doesn't. She had such an exalted idea of freedom that she preferred to die rather than lose it. In other words, a free woman." Gades did not disregard the Bizet opera, rather he combined excerpts from the score with traditional flamenco music, as a reminder throughout the work of its previous incarnation. But almost everything else about dance-drama varies from the original. "Our version is a danced version," he said, "Dance is the main character, by that I mean dance rhythms, music and movement. We have tried to find Carmen's elements in our roots, in our idiosyncrasy as a people. It's not a Greek tragedy with its condemnation or search for salvation. It's something completely different. In our `Carmen' only death frees us from desire. It's about the impossibility of thwarting destiny."

Daringly for the time but prescient as far as modern theatrical staging, Gades gave the story a gritty and gutsy edge by cutting back and forth between an ostensible rehearsal for the dance and the real drama that unfolds among the players, eventually merging the two stories into one. Paring down the narrative to essentials, he dressed the cast in practice clothes and chose to use no set. He choreographed with much the same simplicity, often creating sequences without music so that the stamping feet, clapping hands and snapping fingers could be heard all the better. Often the encounters between Carmen and her lover, Don Jose, take place in total silence. With its riveting dances and stark honesty, it still packs the same power as it did twenty-five years ago.

Los Farruco do not tell stories in their show; rather, each dance they perform illuminates emotions associated with particular states of being. It's as if each emotion were an abstract story in itself. This has long been the way of traditional flamenco, whereas the depth of sorrow is fully realized in the solea, the radiance of joy in the alegria and a certain vehemence in the fierce farruca, the style in which El Farruco made his name. However, these are oversimplifications. When the dancing begins, something else takes over _ the interplay at that moment between the dancers and musicians. It is in those moments that the artists bring their special sensitivity to the style to the fore. They are always seeking a balance between a respect for tradition and the artistic freedom allowed them in their improvisations.

How to achieve that balance is the most important lesson taught by all the members of this company in their celebrated school in Seville. Shortly before his death, Farruco, who personified a Gypsy king with his big belly and sombrero, criticized the growing emphasis on technique in flamenco. "These days everything is manufactured," he said. "You put a piece of plastic in the machine, and a dance comes rolling out. You must not want to put so many figures and things in it. It is enough to lift up an arm, but you have to know how to lift it, without practicing. You have to be able to tell it from the inside. A ballet dancer dances the same every day, a flamenco dancer doesn't." This lesson has been ingrained in every member of Los Farruco, and every time they walk on stage, they set it on fire, just as he taught them.


For tickets and further information visit New York City Center.

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