Caminos Flamencos’ Canciones November 30

A drizzly Sunday matinee took Brooke Byrne and me to the Cowell Theatre at Fort Mason to see the matinee of two performances of Caminos Flamencos’ Canciones with Yaelisa’s seven stalwarts, Manuel Guiterrez, Marina Elena, Fanny Ara, Melissa Cruz, Devon Le Russa, Molly Rogers and Christina Zanfagna. The singers included Jesus Montoya and Jose Cortes with musicians Jason McGuire “El Rubio’, drummer/cajon player Marion Aldana and Paul Martin Sounder on the upright bass.

Canciones implies lyrics of which there were aplenty. Alas, those in Spanish were not clarified with an English translation so that words like “Luna,” and “Corazon,” proved the principal Spanish words most in the audience understood. There must have been Spanish speaking flamenco aficionados in the audience; for us ignoramouses a tad of translation would go a long way to intensify the experience of Yaelisa’s continued invention.

Out of the fifteen separate numbers in the program, eight were created and danced to popular lyrics, featuring individual dancers in their own choreography, performed following a Verdiales by the company and a rousing Zapateado rendered by the musicians.

Yaelisa led off with L. Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ before the company danced to the Beatles ‘Because’. The songs chosen lent themselves to turns and taconeo as well as flamenco port de bras, adapting to the lyrics. This was particularly true for Fanny Ara’s interpretation of Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage,” where her arms lunged outward, as if her body was pressed against jailhouse bars.

Manuel Gutierrez ‘s performance to Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” sung by Ray Charles, was enhanced by three pools of light and three successive encounters with women who simply moved on. Gutierrez uses his feet in a most elegant manner and positions hat and jacket to theatrical effect.

Just before intermission the company gathered for “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” sung by The Police. Following intermission, company danced to a Stevie Wonder rendition of “Pastime Paradise,.” with a multi-hued umbrella adding spice.

The last two interpretations of pop songs were danced by Devon La Russa, “Wake” to Linkin Park, La Russa in Black and dancing with strong modern dance overtones, while Melissa Cruz selected “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” sung by Aretha Franklin, Cruz attired a la ragamuffin, mismatched clothing and a substantial blue scarf.

The three musicians then changed the ambiance with Contratempo A La Luz de La Luna, and the orthodox flamenco section began with Fanny Ara. Ara’s Tangos de Malaga was enhanced by a cream-colored sheath sporting small ruffles at hem, neckline and sleeves of ombre rusts and brown, a knockout of a costume, emphasizing the luxurious swivel of her hips and the insistence of her taconeo. Brooke Byrne remarked, “For my money, Fanny Ara and Melissa Cruz can do no wrong.”

Alegrias was interpreted by Marina Elana, small, tawny of hair, dressed in white with a tasseled white scarf which she manipulated as the dance required her body to turn left and right as her feet emphasized a pattern with heel and metatarsals, all with the air , “Oh, you think so – well, I’ll show you.” This combative quality ending with a flourish after she had divested herself of her scarf; at the last minute, she thrust it around her shoulders, “So there!”.

Manuel Gutierrez interpreted a Fandangos, frequently considered a couples dance and with castanets. Minus castanets, Gutierrez made his interpetation memorable.

Yaelisa likes closing programs with Siguiriyas. It suits her, the eloquence of her arms and hands. In addition to this distinction, her interest in stretching the flamenco medium into something typically contemporary in American pop music is to be applauded, even though for me, the tradition remains the most exciting part of her faithful ensemble.

The audience clearly loved the program. Then Gutierrez’ little son came tripping across the stage and was persuaded to exercise his small feet in a barrage of taconeo. The image of the ensemble warmly encouraging this representative of the next generation was quite endearing.

David Szasla is to be congratulated on the spare ambiance of his lighting design.

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