Solo Flamenco at Fort Mason

23 Nov

With the Fort Mason remodeling of the space housing the Cowell Theatre, one enters along a newly asphalted lane on the dock outside the structure housing pavilion as well as theatre. Sometimes the original door is open, but the weekend of November 15-16, the new entry was the way to see Theatre Flamenco’s Solo Flamenco performance, comprising four solo dancers, two singers and a guitarist.

The audience was ready to enjoy the evening, providing great enthusiasm and energy to the succession of solos, a duet and the finale ensemble. Artistic Carola Zertuche and Christina Hall were the two regulars, Alfonso Losa and Manuela Rios the guest dancers. Jose Luis Rodriguez provided solid support with his guitar. The provocative singers were Ismael Fernandez and Jose Mendez, the tall and slightly debonair Fernandez contrasted with the short and squarely built Mendez, who sang the major portion of the program with intensity, his delivery resembling a union organizer pressing his message. Miking the singers added to the overall sense of strident sound.

The physical builds of the dancers also was a study of contrasts, helping to explain the why and how of attack. With the exception of the women’s bota de colas, quite in evidence, the days of elegance, fluffy ruffles and large loopy earrings seemed vanished. And where were those skin-tight trousers and bolero jackets laden with jet on short sleek men or romantic sleeved blouses of a colorful color? Or the tall, graceful figures of Vargas and Ximenez or Jose Greco?

Zertuche’s solo commenced next to Rodriguez, seated, with his guitar. She moved away from him, hands circling, fingers weaving curlicues. She moved away, but, oh dear, her bota de cola was caught. So, she wound around in a circle closer to Rodriguez. This created a movement monologue of in and out, body turning, twisting, arms thrusting downward, tugs on the skirt;no soap, she is stuck. At the very end, she loosened herself, twisting away from the previous confines, danced briefly a free woman, taconeo so declaring, the frustration gradually giving way to a firm, purposeful exit.

Christina Hall followed, a slender-boned dancer one might characterize as exquisite. Hall, in this number, tried to compensate for this physical delicacy, with a consistent thrust of the arms almost akimbo. Having seen her previously in delicate, nuanced numbers, this sudden attempt at rawness was disconcerting, if invigorating to the audience. Taken with the overall program, however, her abrupt thrusts seemed to compliment artists Losa and Rios.

Alfonso Losa is a squarely-built, compact man, hair in a small ponytail, dressed in a greyish suit, grasping the hem of the jacket in traditional fashion. His taconeo possesses a compelling automatic machine gun, relentless quality, frequently followed by an abrupt turn leaving him nearly off balance, but from which he invariably recovered. I felt in the presence of a man who very easily could be the head of a cadre in a very bad mood.

Manuela Rosa is dark-haired, pretty of face, tall of stature; I suspect she has a gutsy sense of humor. She clearly knows the tradition, but somehow is off-handed about it; one cannot help but be aware that those spot-on turns with backbends are not her forte. In her Tarantos, among her noticeable talents was her pitos, delivered with long, slender fingers.

Hall and Rosa flipped bota de colas together before the finale where Rosa wore a smashing black and white gown, marred by a scarlet apron adorning her stomach slightly askew. Why the choice in a futile attempt to evoke folksiness is a mystery.

There was the usual ensemble finale with the four dancers executing variations, eliciting vociferous audience response and a brief encore. If audience opinion was the arbiter, the dancers could do no wrong. However, the finale clearly projected four dancers with little performance-sharing dancing together cheerfully, but lacking enough familiarity to make the evening’s end a genuine ensemble affair.

Still, Zertuche is to be congratulated for bringing these artists to local attention. The Spanish dance scene is a source of endless interest and for outsiders like myself an equal repository of mystery with my formative exposure long gone but happily remembered.

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