Tag Archives: Jose Cortes

Caminos Flamencos’ Canciones November 30

4 Dec

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. Doubtlesst  many Spanish-speaking flamenco aficionados were in the audience; for us ignoramouses a tadt of translating 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, the company danced to a Stevie Wonder rendition of “Pastime Paradise,.” a multi-hued umbrella adding cheek and 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; Melissa Cruz selected “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” sung by Aretha Franklin, Cruz attired like a ragamuffin; mismatched clothing, 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,  small ruffles at hem, neckline and sleeves of ombre rusts and brown were a knockout, 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, and, at the last minute, 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 interpeetation 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, and when 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.

Theatre Flamenco at Fort Mason’s Southside Theater, November 14

29 Nov

This ensemble is celebrating its 47th season with the aid of singer Jose Cortes, guitarist Jose Luis Rodriguez, bassist Sasha Jacobsen, the regulars Carola Zertuche, artistic director, Christina Hall with Morten Luevano as guest artists, appearing in Con Nombre y Apellido, asking the question “Why do I dance?”

Though I voice concerns regarding the staging, the dedication to Ernesto Hernandez, the late, memorable flamenco artist who died this past summer, was timely and touching. As I write, his image rises into mind’s eye with his clear pitos, a red polka dot shirt and black trousers, head slightly inclined, clicking his way through an intricate or fast paced taconeo. I was relieved when he chose flamenco over the San Francisco Contemporary Dancers; he and we were very much the richer for it.

With a platform largely bare; those in the middle seats saw the dressing room exit. Lighting, images and two scrims as flies at stage edge were necessary to compensate for the square footage constraints. I give Carola Zertuche full marks for the skill and ingenuity she employed as compensation though the results diminished the dancing impact. She abided by the decisions of Ricardo Rubio, her co-artistic director for scenic design and script, and Fermin Martinez who governed the sound and multi-media design.

I’m afraid the overall effect visually was too busy; lights in the dancers’ palms; two scrims on either side of the proscenium provided background for vintage photos of flamenco life or Spanish café gatherings. Flickering too fast, the images jammed each other on the scrims voiding appreciation. The lighting and sound intruded, rather than lending ambiance for the dance; that is, unless the object was to show flamenco, like other dance forms, has struggled against technical invasions in formerly personal, imaginative space. (I am extremely picky about what I allow into my fantasy life; and, by extension, into performances. Mine is not the gourmand visual or aural capacity.)

Jose Cortes and Jose Luis Rodriguez provided an anchor in all this shifting of lights, images and text, a beacon of tradition for the three women who exchanged minimal changes of costumes three times. As the newcomer, Morten Luevano is a woman strongly built, direct in appeal; absorbed in her execution, she engaged me with her sincerity. She has tension problems in her upper back, but promises future depths of expression. Zertuche danced her usual well-placed centrality in the program, generously providing space for Luievano and Christina Hall, whose blonde delicacy continues to interest the viewer with the seeming contradictory demands of flamenco expression.

Given this year’s location limits, I hope Theatre Flamenco’s next season will return to Cowell Theatre and a new theme in its venerable performance history.

Yaelisa’s Chrismas Offering, ODC, December 12-16

28 Dec

With “10 por Arriba” Yaelisa returned to ODC Theater where she and her ensemble had presented monthly tablaos prior to its remodeling. now with her core performers and one guest artist.  Like Carola Zertuche of Theatre Flamenco the male baelerin needs to be a guest. In this instance it was Manuel Gutierrez with the percussionist/drummer Joey Heredia adding to the panache as well as  the accomplished flamenco singer Jose Cortes.  Cellist Dan Reiter, Pianist Vicki Trimbach and tenor Ray Chavez contributed  to the evening’s magic.

The San Francisco area is blessed to have  such periodic productions, as well as the La Tania, Fanny Ara and Clara Rodriguez  occasional presentations or guest appearances.  One former Spanish dancer told me the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most active flamenco centers in the United States.

Yaelisa set the stage as if for rehearsal with the dancers entering casually, deliberately, still lost in transition from the street and personal consideration.  First, Yaelisa, ready to commence practice, heard the  Brandenberg Concerto No 3 in G, instead of flamenco guitar or a Spanish piano piece; her reaction, being “oh, no, not that!” but the music continued and her stamp of protest became one of acquiescence, rising to the baroque cadences, adapting taconeo and port de bras to the music’s fulsome formality.  During the course of the concerto Melissa Cruz, Fanny Ara and Manuel Gutierrez joined her, all finishing with a flourish.

Continuing the Western classical tradition, Fanny Ara played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, before the company danced Canestera and Joey Heredia  demonstrated how his percussion — drumming and cajon — can be spell binding. Jason McGuire and Yaelisa collaborated on J.S. Bach’s  Fugue in A. Minor, a reminder of the classical  qualities of the guitar and McGuire’s own versatility.

Vicki Trimbach and Dan Reiter performed “Piece en form de Habenera” before Melissa Cruz sang Lost Cause with a quiet,  little girl quality, accompanying herself on the guitar.

The company danced Tangos before the intermission.

Vicki Trimbach showed her stripes with the composition Non Mi riguardi, sung by Ray Chavez, accompanied by Trimbach on the piano, Dan Reiter at the cello with Yaelisa assuming the role of the Gypsy in the vignette set in 2012 Italy. The plot possessed all the impossibilities of La Strada or the worst U.S. Recession scenario, allowing  Yaelisa to handle her mantilla with accustomed skill and Chavez to sing of his abysmal situation with fervor.  Trimbach’s  creation deepened the meaning of arriba,  a word which can mean anything from onward to free or gratis.

Manuel Gutierrrez’ turn at center stage found him at his usual bursts of  taconeo, pauses and pacing.  This time he kept his jacket on until his impassioned exit; the interval remained exciting, not only for the aforementioned qualities but wondering when the jacket would be shed.

The ensemble joined for the finale before Jose Cortes sang the Rumba Gitana with his usual force and varying melismas. A program to savor, anticipating another spate of innovations,  If this be deviation from the norm, l  can only say, Brava, Yaelisa.

Somos Tierra: A Flamenco Landscape November 24

6 Dec


From the lovely California  coastal city of Santa Barbara two contemporary flamenco exponents have emerged within the last decade: Clara Rodriguez and Timo Nunez.  If the dancers are using their family names, they represent  Americans pursuing a Spanish heritage, whether direct or filtered through Latin America or Mexico.  Their pursuit has been clearly vigorous and intense
as evidenced in Somos Tierra, November 25 at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater.  Rodriguez  produced the evening; Nunez was guesting from Los Angeles and La Tania crossed the Bay to contribute two dances.

The single evening of flamenco brought out not only a raft of local afficionados but the excellent musicians who appear with Theatre Flamenco: Sudhi Rajagopal, Kina Mendez and Jose Cortes. Added were guitarist  Gabriel Lautaro Osuna, hailing from Los Angeles, and David McLean, who composed the majority of the music as well as playing guitar.
Kina Mendez started the program with Nana a la Luna- Lullaby to the Moon.  She seemed in her element, strong with edgy qualities half way between declamation and song, reinforced by empathic ole murmurs from the audience.

Suena el Alba – Sounds of Dawn followed with Clara Rodriguez, a slight and swift woman with medium-brown hair, a nearly oval face and a swift attack to the sounds of David McLean’s guitar.  She seemed tense if accurate, clearly with the rhythm, the beat; tension is, normal when one is in charge of a program.

Luz or Light followed with the three dancers together.. and the first glimpse of Timo Nunez as well as La Tania.  Nunez is tall, slender legged, his head a handsome oblong, wearing white shoes, their  metallic decorations calling attention to the feet, and a metallic hued vest over a brown shirt, interfering with the visual impact of the torso.  La Tania was dressed in a filmy black dress fluttering around her ankles.

How to describe my visual response to the trio in their unison rendition?  La Tania possesses  liquidity, sensual, oddly relaxed  considering the forcefulness  of heel work.  She seems to ease into her timing, where Rodriguez and Nunez hit the rhythm smack on the beat. I found myself thinking  “That’s because Rodriguez and Nunez are American born.”  I could visualize the two Santa Barbara born dancers fitting easily into an American modern dance or ballet company, regardless of their clearly excellent flamenco accomplishments.

Camino del Agua – Path of Water, to a McLean composition increased this impression of Rodriguez.

Her solo was followed by Raices – Roots, providing solos for Jose Cortes and Kina Mendez, deep seated and a fully flowering , slightly raw sounding vocal expositions. Cortes’s hands struggled to pull the melismas from his solar plexis.

For me the evening’s most affecting dance brought Clara Rodriguez to the piano with Isaac Albeniz “El Albancin”  to accompany La Tania in Hojas de mi Infancia – Leaves of my Childhood.  In her fluid black dress La Tania conveyed memories, longing, tender, ably supported by Rodriguez. La Tania’s liquid movement manages to convey the weighted, the  passionate without vulgarity, considered; yet, for all its predetermined pattern, what she dances melds both practice and the momentary emotion making each step seem inevitable.

El Color de Los Sombras – The Color of Shadows, a Seguiriyas, brought Timo Nunez  enthusiastic audience response. His taconeo and audience contact was first rate, but I found myself alienated by the incongruous choice of zabatos and vest.  I  clearly held a minority view.

Following intermission Rodriguez and Nunez collaborated in an AlegriasHuellas en la Arena – Footprints in the Sand. Nunez and Rodriguez chose wearing brilliant green, Nunez changing his vest for a darker hue against a short sleeved green shirt and those white shoes; Rodriguez selected a one shoulder green tunic over a full patterned skirt.  I could not quite determine whether they were antagonists or partners; the interplay between them was minimal until near the end, with little of the flirtatious or the circling ardor one expects in a flamenco pas de deux.  It could well be my memory had solidified over past performances.

La Tania’s second dance was Despertar – Awaken, a Solea, danced with David McLean at the  guitar.  She coaxed, entreated and beckoned while maneuvering a persimmon-hued bota de cola  broken at the waist with a wide black band. She essayed differing methods of rousing the subject of her focus.  It was difficult to see how anyone might want to slumber as she swirled, held her flounces during taconeo or when her arms described the rewards of rising to her entreaties.

David McLean and Gabriel Osuna collaborated on a Bulerias under the title Viento de la Serrania – Wind from the Mountains.

Clara Rodriguez closed the program with a Tarantos, La Tierra AdentroThe Land Within. Her  rusty orange tunic was marked by open sleeves tied at intervals and a contrasting full bluish skirt.  While her competence was unquestioned, I found Rodriguez’ choice of ending the program with a solo, rather than an ensemble,  puzzling.  But it was, after all, her show.

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.

Flamenco International, Mission Cultural Center, September 30

10 Oct

Only an E-mail provided the information for this intimate exposition of Flamenco with two superb singers, Jose Cortes and Afonso Mogaluro,                two dancers, Antonio Arrebola and Carola Zertuche, a player of the cajon, John Martin, and the guitarist Ricardo Diaz, who also was the organizer. But the event, independent of its venue, drew a crowd of clearly flamenco afficiandos.

The Mission Cultural Center was started in 1977 by student activists at San Francisco State University who petitioned the San Francisco City and County Government for space where the community and arts of Latino background could gather for events and classes.  The Center became particularly noted for Mission Grafica;  its activity in poster art gained recognition and prizes in biennial International competitions in Germany and Cuba.  The Center offers a variety of classes, from printmaking for children to salsa and belly-dancing for adults.

Diaz can be forgiven for being a better guitarist than an organizer;  the performers filed out on stage some twenty minutes following an announced eight p.m. curtain.  While the audience waited, sounds of taconeo could be heard back stage; everyone seemed good-natured about the delay.

After the guitar opening, Jose Cortes began to sing, or rather went into extended melismas over a word or phrase.  A tallish, square-faced  man with abundant silver hair, the energy given to this individualistic expression was abundant, his hands pushing against the air, extending the range of a note. Alfonso Mogaburo followed, looking like a young Marc Platoff, vocal tones lighter presence more diffident but equally capable of extended melismas.

Arrebola followed with a Martinete, a dance frequently accented by the sound
of an anvil, evoking its origins in the forge.  Carola Zertuche’s number just
before intermission was a Tientos, galvinizing the audience with her almost
sombre delivery, though a smile flickered across her mouth at unexpected
moments.  Her turns are precise, her focus unrelenting, her accents sometimes
unexpected, her pitos clear.

After intermission Ricardo Diaz played his solo; the two singers provided a lead in for Zertuche’s Tarante going into a Tango. Her dancing covered the stage,
her palmas judiciously spaced, the torso bending, whipping, arms extending,
raised or coiling, an onward pace never faltering. At times her body moved
through bawdy positions;  nothing in her mood extended any potential vulgarity. She wove a narrative of emotion and movement to an abrupt finale, and the audience rose quickly for a deserved ovation.

The concluding dance was Arrebola’s Alegrias, the light-hearted dance
from his native Malaga.  The man has a formidable technique, but an inclination
to mug for effect, diminishing an otherwise brilliant exposition.  The audience,
however, didn’t seem to mind the clowning, if the ovation wasn’t quite so
immediate as the one given Zertuche.

The morning after, the images of the singers and Zertuche continued to linger.