Theater Flamenco at Marines Memorial, November 12

26 Nov

Theater Flamenco selected Marines Memorial Theater on Sutter Street when it looked like Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater would be closed for remodeling. Marines Memorial is a two-tiered, 650 seat theater which opened in 1926.  At one time it housed Actors’ Workshop before this company moved to New York City.  American Conservatory Theater, or A.C.T., started its San Francisco history here as well.

45 Anos de Arte Flamenco, 45 Years of Flamenco Art, featured the small ensemble evolved under Carola Zertuche since she assumed the company’s artistic direction in 2007 when Miguel Santos traded direction to his current board position as president.

With guest dancer Juan Siddi and Cristina Hall, Zertuche danced to a marvelous ensemble of five instrumentalists and two singers. Despite the awkward stage arrangement with its shallow audience seating descent, the trio and musicians rendered a satisfying  evening. Siddi’s double duty more than compensated Manuel Gutierrez’ absence.

First the singers, Jose Cortes and Kina Mendez would be first in movie casting for their  respective roles.  “El Muleto”,a tall, silver haired Andalucian gypsy, expands a melisma into a virtual essay of emotion, reinforcing the adage that Spanish is the language of love.  Mendez, whose gypsy family hails from the sherry capital of Jerez de la Frontera, may not be quite so tall, but she  belts her lyrics with Merman fervor out of a warmly curved body, her face animated with a piercing command in her eyes.

The musicians bring instruments to a performance normally supported by just singers and guitarists.  The shift is admirable and supportive, led by guitarist Jose Luis Rodriguez, with Alex Conde serving as pianist and musical arranger. Sudhi Rajagopal presided on the cajon, the violinist and cellist were Tregar Orton and Jesse Wolff.

Cristina Hall, fair and delicate like a Meissen figurine, broke type in male attire for an impassioned  bulerias.

The  trio danced an intense Farruca, the taconeo going overtime. This followed Cana where Zertuche and Siddi played with the shawl Zertuche maneuvered from her shoulder with great skill, the covering intensifying the flirtation between the two, Siddi on at least three occasions breaking the tension by actually touching Zertuche at the waist.

The shawl used by Zertuche enjoys a special history, for it belongs to the tradition of Manila Shawls, imports to Spain from China when Manila  was the entrepot between Asia and Spain via the Manila Galleons and Mexico plying the longest sea trade route in history, 1565-1815.  This particular example once belonged to Teresita Osta, a local Spanish dancer of Basque descent, who gave it to Miguel Santos, making it a special talisman of San Francisco dance history.

With Zertuche’s amazing vision, one would hope some notes on the various flamenco forms might be part of her planning for future programs.  Enthusiasts would welcome the enlightenment.

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