Five women in t-shirts and long black skirts over leggings whirled and stomped across the studio at Velocity Saturday morning, rehearsing for Caras de Flamenco, a one-night performance this Saturday, August 25. The sound of their feet was deafening and powerful, yet catchy. Their syncopated rhythms and their energized rhythmic clapping were part of the traditional flamenco tangos form, which always has groove and swing, or aire, as it’s called by flamencos.
Watching this collaboration between local flamenco artists put the joy of creating the Spanish dance form on display. The five dancers worked together seamlessly. “I wonder if…” started one, “Will we have time in this part to do a little…?” added another. “We could even…” suggests a third. One of the main goals of this particular show is to demonstrate to audiences how varied the local flamenco community is, easily visible through the multitude of ideas and styles at work here in the rehearsal room, combining choreography and ideas from each dancer into one piece. As they practice their tangos—a form unrelated to Tango from Argentina but full of influences from the American and African continents—their individual expression emerged: through Talia Ortega Vestal’s delightfully rounded arm positioning, Jackie Villegas Maclin’s particularly smooth gliding steps, Sarah Ward’s sharp emphasis in the wrist, or Eve Salonen’s extra cheeky jump toward the end. Kelli Brown executed her moves with so much energy it was a wonder she was able to continue on to rehearsing her solo afterward. Throughout their work on the final details, there were smiles and laughs in the midst of all the footwork and windmilling arms.
By the end of the tangos, the singer, Samir Osorio had joined the rehearsal and proved that so much depends on the cante, or song, of flamenco, as his voice became glue for the group through his energy and melody. The cohesion and power of the dance became fully grounded in its final run-through, enhanced by Ben Phipps’s guitar intro and accompaniment, joined by Bryan Douglas on guitar, and Tim Funk on cajon. The piece is full of gentle hip swings, dancers slapping their thighs and clapping, and careful group formation on stage. The footwork sections require virtuosity and endurance but the dancers keep loose arms and a steady gaze. They catch the ending of a guitar phrase and hold a pose before jumping, literally, into the next line of music, a playful movement that urges the audience to follow them and see where they are going next. And Caras de Flamenco is not only about the group choreography; each dancer will also present an original solo piece accompanied by the same live musicians. The solos include fun flamenco props like flirtatious fans, enthralling shawls and a bata de cola, a skirt with a long train that lifts, flies, and lands like a cloud despite its weight and length. The energies in each solo range from light and teasing to rich, even somber, sensuality.
Caras de Flamenco, or “Faces of Flamenco”, is organized by Ward, an advocate for the strength and growth of the flamenco community in the region. To create the show she called on fellow dancers who share her passion for collaboration and on four local musicians to accompany their work, all nine from varied ethnic backgrounds and all fundamental participants in the small community of Northwest flamenco. The importance of international contributors to flamenco crystallized for Ward earlier this year in Spain at the Festival de Jerez, which draws some of the most dedicated students from across the globe to study intensively with Spain’s best and most exciting flamencos. The gathering of such diverse artists in one city inspired Ward to embrace the global community and even view it as a necessary part of pushing flamenco forward as an artform. She emphasizes that the creativity and even economic success of flamenco has from the start depended greatly on contributions and fusions from outsiders beyond the stereotypical Romani flamenco artists in southern Spain. Ward has been involved in many shows as a performer and member of a close-knit community, but this is her first show as an organizer.
Adding to the celebration of a diverse flamenco community, Seattle photographer Matt Villanueva has been documenting local dancers and musicians both in the dance studio and in formal portraits over many weeks. His work will be on display at Caras de Flamenco, to provide another perspective on the work and passion behind the art on stage. From dance class to studio practice, to singers and guitarists, Villanueva has captured a wide sample of Seattle’s flamenco faces at work and at play. And in flamenco, work is play.
Caras de Flamenco will be performed on August 25th, at 8pm in the Chapel Performance Space at Good Shepherd Center. For more information visit www.carasdeflamenco.com Tickets available at www.carasdeflamenco.brownpapertickets.com