Tag Archives: Alex Conde

Theatre Flamenco’s Flamenco en Movimiento, November 11

30 Nov

A mild, windless November afternoon at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater is as  balmy  as it is rare  with the San Francisco  Bay water slapping at the Fort Mason  piers, sailboats bobbing at anchor, sunlight  and some stray clouds dotting the bay view of the Marin shore  and the sand-colored walls of the former  Federal Alcrataz prison., now a popular tourist destination. It helped make Theatre Flamenco’s matinee that much more special.

Forty-six years of performing have seen Theatre Flamenco morph from a student/mentor ensemble to essentially a two-woman troupe, accompanied  by a faithful group of musicians to which guest artists are added  each season.  The guest artists, while partially determined by budget, also are selected to complement artistic director  Carola Zertuche’s season’s vision; results are never dull, frequently quite surprising.  This season the emphasis was Flamenco en Movimiento, demonstrating the dynamics, the variety possible in this consistently exciting form.

Zertuche’s wonderful musicians were Jose Valle “Chuscales”, guitar; Alex Conde, piano; Jose Cortes, singer; Kina Mendez, singer;  Sudhi Rajagopal, percussionist; Sascha Jacobsen, bassist.  Cortes sang the beginnings of most numbers, with Mendez  providing intense emotional mid-sections, yielding to Cortes for the finale, an arrangement,  heightening the trajectory of the dances.

The program cover displayed an image of the stereotypical slick-haired Spanish male, sleek, assured, his black costume ending in equally elegant multiple layers of ruffled skirt, rose clutched in the mouth, hands grasping castaneos.  To substantiate this provocative image, the program provided three guest artists, including  Nol Simonse,  one of the Bay Area’s most supple, gifted modern dancers .  I had seen him before in a taffeta ball gown as a member of Company Chaddick, so his assignment was not so surprising, though his employment was unusual.  He stamped, barefooted, in ensemble numbers with the best of those making audible taconeo, his arms harmonizing with flamenco port de bras if clearly inflected by  modern dance and ballet.

The eight numbers, four before and four following intermission, allowed the artists solos in addition to the ensembles beginning and closing the performance. The participating dancers in addition to Zertuche were Cristina Hall, Antonio Arrebola, Nino de los Reyes.

With Movimiento de la Farruca, Antonio Arrebola led off the solos. He is a tall, rangy-built man who looked like he could  be equally at home on a soccer field and like a distant cousin of the late Lew Christensen or a descendant of one of the wandering Visigoths. Arrebola’s arms spread at moments like a glider or a mammoth bird carried by the wind currents, turning tightly, his taconeo precise. While dressed like a citizen on a break from work, he presented with  a touch of nobility.

Cristina Hall, appearing regularly with Theatre Flamenco, is small, finely boned and blonde. Una Guajira en Moveimento displayed her with a fan with a fluid-lined, cream-colored dress with fluid lines, unexpectedly tie-dyed at the back,  an unexpected, fascinating  accent punctuated with her use of the fan, opening, closing, held against her cheek, tapped on the shoulder, resting closed or open on the hip, swung side to hip open or closed as she bent, twirled and executed taconeo.

Los Palos en Movimento with Nino de los Reyes followed, as explosive a technician ans Arrebola was introverted, as squarish in build as Arrebola was tall.

Following Intermission, Simonse was featured in La Libertad del Moviminento in skirted Spanish style, moving adroitly in keeping with the  guitar  later joined by Arrebola in similar garb in Un Movimiento para Dos. They provided a background for Carola Zertuche in El Movimiento de la Solea.  The use of fabric by the two men with her was singularly effective, arresting visually though it did seem more effect than emotionally compelling.  Still, one has to admire Zertuche for pushing the dance borders while remaining true to flamenco
rhythms and style.

The company finished with Flamenco en Movimiento.  While I can’t always agree with what she envisions, I look forward eagerly to  Carola Zertuche’s fertile vision of what the flamenco tradition can embrace.  Some day perhaps, we can also enjoy some clarification of all the exponents listed in artistic credits.  The influences and personalities shaping the artists would be more than just a tantalizing list of living mysteries.

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.