Luxurîa by Barcelona Flamenco Ballet (BFB) at the gorgeous Alex Theatre in Glendale last Saturday night was a surprising, and dare I say emotionally complex, performance. I realized sitting in the audience, listening to the low Spanish chit chat and whispers, that I did not know as much as I should about the technique of Flamenco dance. I’ve been privy, like most, to the seduction, intrigue, and passion the dance brings on emotionally to the audience and dancer alike, but I had not thought until now how elaborate and intricate Flamenco steps were. I believe my first introduction to anything relating to Flamenco was a duet I saw between Ricky Ricardo and a club girl in I Love Lucy reruns on Nick at Nite. With the overly exaggerated large lace headdress, castanets, and polka dot ruffled costume it would not be the last example of Hollywood over accessorizing for dramatic effect. My next example didn’t come until I saw Baz Luhrman’s 1993 Film Strictly Ballroom which filtered Flamenco amongst many other ballroom classics like the Fox Trot, Waltz, and Tango. Although more historically accurate, was still tied to the eccentricity of filmmaking. This is all to say that Luxurîa being my first in person performance for Flamenco culture, was an overwhelming love affair and experience I’m still obsessed with.

Barcelona Flamenco Ballet - Cantaor (singer) Joel de Pepa - Photo by Rossen Donev

Barcelona Flamenco Ballet – Cantaor (singer) Joel de Pepa – Photo by Rossen Donev

Firstly, and most importantly…music. The brilliant Joel de Pepa’s voice as the cantaor (singer) for the evening was a voice undeserved. Accompanied by guitarist Jordi Centeno, and percussionist Gerardo Morales, I was transported straight to Spain with a heavy heart yearning for lost love, young love, unrequited love. Barcelona Flamenco Ballet established the community this dance can build right from the start, and how important setting the musical tone can be. Before we saw any movement, the musicians along with the director and choreographer David Gutiérrez, and ballerina Paula Reyes, sat in a horizontal line on stage and began to set the rhythm. Palmas, the flamenco term for its accompanied hand clapping style, became increasingly more important as the evening developed. It seemed to reset the energy, the flow, the pulse for which everything happening around it grew. I couldn’t help but think of the pressure Joel de Pepa, who kept Palmas on track for most of the performance, must have felt! After all, this is the metronome of the evening and it would only take a fraction of a second to throw off the beat should you be distracted. But this is where witnessing BFB got interesting because they were effortless. I understood that, like many different dances around the world, Flamenco cannot be taught. It’s a dance you must feel in your bones, musical movement that goes against the rhythm and with it. It may be the most modern historically ancient form of dance I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with in a long while.

David Gutiérrez - Photo-©

David Gutiérrez – Photo-©

The footwork by Reyes and Gutiérrez, called zapateado, was a skill beyond anything I have witnessed. Almost reminiscent of Irish step dancing, Gutiérrez would tap his foot with such speed and intensity that you were sure a muscle spasm was the only way he could isolate movement in his foot that quickly. Both Gutiérrez and Reyes had individualized styles of fluid arm movements, with rolling wrists and finger gesturing (florea), while keeping up with the flexibility and movement of their torso and rib cage. It seemed every individual body part and appendage had a story of its own, moving as an individual to make up this complex and absolutely extraordinary body of emotions. The encouragement of interjections, where the audience would exclaim “Olé” and “¡Arriba, arriba!” at the performers was such a wonderful experience to be a part of.

Barcelona Flamenco Ballet - David Gutiérrez and Paula Reyes in Luxurîa - Photo by Victor Parreño

Barcelona Flamenco Ballet – David Gutiérrez and Paula Reyes in Luxurîa – Photo by Victor Parreño

Even though I knew I was in a theater with an assigned seat, I felt as though I was on the streets of Barcelona. I felt as though I had just happened upon a moment in the community. I felt part of something bigger, something outside of my cultural comfort zone, and I never wanted it to end. Something about the way Gutiérrez and Reyes held back their energy, from each other and themselves, was a refreshing intensity universal among all humans. It is the sort of intensity one uses to pray in a church, or a punch in a pool hall. They both embodied this temper of hot and cold, of excitement and anger, and it all came out in their gestures, eyes, and especially in their footwork. BFB embodied such an old form of dance in a modern and approachable way. They were able to connect with an American audience who, like myself, did not know what it meant to feel Flamenco…and now I do not want to feel anything else.


To learn more about Barcelona Flamenco Ballet, please visit their WEBSITE.

To learn more about the Alex Theatre in Glendale, please visit their WEBSITE.

Written by Grace Courvoisier for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: David Gutiérrez, Paula Reyes in Luxurîa – Photo courtesy of Barcelona Flamenco Ballet

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