If you happened to be in the audience at the Kirkland Performance Center on August 8, you were one of the lucky few to see renowned flamenco dancer Maria Bermudez and her company, Sonidos Gitanos, light up the stage. Bermudez founded the company in 1995, and Kirkland had the distinct pleasure of being at the end of an extensive tour which included cities in Europe, Australia, Scandinavia, and Asia. It was through the efforts of Flamenco Arts Northwest, who paired up with Espacio de Arte, that brought these incredible international artists to the Northwest.
Many people are unfamiliar with the composite of flamenco’s complex history, and the art form itself comes out of an oral tradition that has only been documented for the past 200 years. Due to the religious and racial persecution of Jewish and Moor tribes, as well as Gypsy clans from India, flamenco became a product of their combined struggles to survive through the merging of songs, dress, instruments, percussion, and dancing. All of this resulted in a medley of intensely passionate yet cloudy energy that became the essence of Flamenco.
At KPC, Bermudez, as well as the other artists, were ardently channeling this powerful history. The show was made up of nine acts that included solos, duets, and complete ensembles in every combination of song, music, and dance. The set was simple: singers and musicians formed an arc at the front of the stage while the dancers slid, stomped, clapped, shouted, and grimaced their way around stage in front of them. Singers, (most notably, guest artist Fernando de la Morena), walked to the front of the stage, staring boldly at the audience, bursting into a mournful and haunting melody full of complex pitch changes and throaty, raspy trills, invoking images of a hot, dry summer in a faraway coastal town. Some pieces focused the audience’s attention on a trio or a pair of musicians, such as when guitarist Jesus Alvarez and rhythmic maestro Luis de la Tota played a vigorous duet that integrated each person’s unique talents and created an auditory banter; it proved entertaining, engaging and completely mesmerizing.
All the while, the audience was invited to express appreciation and encouragement with cries of “alla,” a tradition initiated by de la Tota as a part of flamenco culture. This made it all the more evident that the audience completed the other half of the arc assembled onstage. It created an intimate energy that only a circle can bring. And so, as Bermudez and guest dancer, Alejandro Granados, spun and promenaded, jumped, tapped, shouted or sometimes flashed a dazzling smile, they did not always dance facing the crowd. Instead, they faced each other or the musicians, allowing the audience to see them dance from many angles. This was what flamenco must have felt like during the times when it was largely ignored by the Church and the Spanish government, only to be found in the privacy of a Gypsy home.