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Flamenco is a dance of outsiders, an expression of the oppressed. Flamenco gives voice to pains and joys through wailing and stomping, and through the act of creation, it connects its people together; suddenly in the midst of the sound and whirling, no one is an outsider. Generations of social and political bias against the Roma people who settled in Spain created a culture that depends on its pride, community, and its art for survival. While the Roma have been fundamental in developing the art, there is no ethnic restriction to becoming a true virtuoso, as demonstrated by the Oleaje Flamenco company here in Seattle.  Amelia Moore and José El Niño opened the Oleaje Flamenco show dancing a duet of lighthearted, conversational footwork. They performed tight spins and circled each other slowly, as though carefully observing their partner, yet exploring space, and declaring the stage their own. Immediately, they set the room shimmering with energy.

Photo courtesy of Oleaje Flamenco.

Flamenco is primarily a solo dance, and for the rest of the night, Moore and El Niño took turns performing solo choreographies. To start the evening together was a purposeful statement: the whole cuadro, or performing group, was there together, creating a community of rhythm and sound. The goal was to offer their magic to the audience, not get caught in their own perfectionism or nerves. The musicians included Oleaje’s guitarist Jed Miley and singer Miguel Mejia, plus guest singer Alfonso El Cid. They worked directly with the dancers, locked eyes and followed their every move on stage, catching the unexpected, the accidental, and the experimental in real time. El Niño and Moore would often dance right up to the musicians at the far side of the stage and look them in the eye to start or stop the next section. They made us feel too that the music created the core of everything happening, fueling the energy of the show.

Photo courtesy of Oleaje Flamenco.

El Niño danced an alegrías (a traditional flamenco form) and played intricately with the 12-beat rhythm, a virtuoso of syncopation. The character of the evening centered around the solid tradition of these flamenco forms, showcasing how deeply these artists swim in the depths of the art, not pulling from other genres like hip hop or modern dance in their choreographies.  El Niño used his impeccable technique to blast open the expectations of the structures, surprising the audience with a turn at just the last second and walking out as though it had never happened. He had more than the usual macho flare, and more than one maneuver of his red blazer tossed over his shoulder—going over the top was the element that carried El Niño beyond showy virtuosity into true delight. The simple stamina of his extended footwork drew shouts from the audience—he both smiled and grimaced as he shrugged back into his jacket, threw his head back, then closed his alegrías by walking calmly away.

Similar to El Niño, Moore’s dancing mesmerized and demonstrated expertise in the rhythm and cadence of flamenco’s traditions. Her first solo was a tangos (unrelated to the Argentinian Tango), playful and wild.  The articulation of her footwork demonstrated flawless rhythm—Moore has a true command of musicality in her feet, going from soft tapping to pattering to thundering. Her second solo, an ancient seguiriyas, demonstrated just how expressive every limb could be in tragic grief. The weight of her arms would suddenly cast off with a thrust and windmill around, closing a phrase in a light turn of the wrist. Even her head became key in the expression of the dance, at times seeming to shake off a stubborn memory, then turning gracefully over her shoulder to watch her own departure from an established place on stage. Moore couldn’t keep from smiling even within the gravity of a seguiriyas, but her expert technique and ability to build energy could forgive an accidental display of pleasure beneath the tragedy. Her buildup of footwork in this piece screamed into the floorboards, while her upper body stood calm and perfectly composed. Concluding the thunderous expression grief and rage, the audience erupted for her, as she opened her chest upward in a gesture of gratitude or pleading, and performed a series of dramatic turns that spiral the spine and arms, making the torso appear “broken” off from the lower half. Not only was the audience whooping and applauding, but the entire company on stage beamed at her as she bowed. Moore’s seguiriyas was a genuine feat of technique and expression, seamless and raw.

Photo courtesy of Oleaje Flamenco.

The show was long, it started late, and that didn’t matter one bit. Every minute shifted between deep satisfaction and pure thrill. Seattle is lucky to have Oleaje Flamenco and its guests on stage. Flamenco is an art that is growing its artists and audience in this city, so it’s a great time to explore groups like Oleaje. The precision of rhythm and seamless construction of each dance is pure expertise. Not merely displaying virtuosity, Oleaje uses technique to pull you deep into their world.

Oleaje Flamenco performed at The Royal Room in Seattle, on May 26. José El Niño and Alfonso El Cid were guest artists joining the company of Amelia Moore, Jed Miley, and Miguel Mejia. See their website for future engagements in the Puget Sound area.