Flamenco has been a regular part of the Fountain Theatre’s monthly showcase for over 18 years thanks to Deborah Culver’s Forever Flamenco series featuring a slew of artists from around the world. Though the pandemic briefly interrupted this and all other production possibilities last year, the 2021 season gave way to Flamenco al Fresco — a summer revival made possible with the erection of an outdoor stage within the theater’s parking lot.

Embraced by a socially-distanced full house, Saturday, August 29’s show featured a wonderful blend of power and comradery between dancers Reyes Barrios, Lakshmi Basile (“La Chimi”), and Timo Nuñez; singer Antonio de Jerez; ; and guitarists Juan Moro and Kambiz Pakan. Barrios’ artistic direction and curation of the Noche de Flamenco provided a nice balance between flamenco’s heartbreaking romance and celebration of strength.

Reyes Barrios - Photo by Ed Krieger

Reyes Barrios – Photo by Ed Krieger

The evening began with a few “Cantiñas,” or upbeat flamenco musical modes and distinctive rhythmic patterns, initiated by Moro and Pakan’s skilled guitar playing and Jerez’s vivid vocalizations. Although Nuñez was the featured performer within the dance group, his presence did not eclipse either Barrios or Basile whose styles stood out fantastically against his own. Barrios predominantly represented a traditional approach to the artform, with her multi-tiered “traje de lunares,” or polkadot ensemble. Basile on the other hand first appeared on stage wearing pants — a modern trend adding visual interest to the movement by easily revealing the position of her legs with every stomp and stride.

Together, all three embodied the community-like feeling flamenco is meant to create with every production. Respect is communicated with inviting eye contact and warm gestures to take a moment to embrace the limelight, while gentle flirtation — in this case, mostly between Basile and Nuñez — is used to turn up the heat. Encouraging moments of call-and-response between the dancers and musicians allowed for solid synchronization between the guitar strumming and “zapateo,” or elaborate percussion-like footwork. Nuñez’s steps thundered through the arena, commanding the audience’s attention.

A soothing instrumental break filled the air with Spanish guitar music composed of lively strings and steady finger drumming. A few melodic “le le le–s” later, the musicians were joined by the dance ensemble as each performer prepared to take center stage and deliver their solo.

Lakshmi Basile - Photo by Bruce Bisenz

Lakshmi Basile – Photo by Bruce Bisenz

Basile went first with her “Tientos,” or 4-beat rhythm performance, stealing the scene with sculptural poses crafted to painful lyrics with bleak messages such as “no me va perdonar” (“he will not forgive me”). Her new outfit, which consisted of a ruffled black, red, and white dress with a large train roughly spanning the length of a cathedral-sized wedding dress, was clever and captivating. As she maneuvered her way across the stage, she dragged and kicked the cloth out of her way, sometimes lifting it over her head from behind like a proud bird showing off its full-bodied plumage. The train was so large that anyone less skilled than Basile would have easily tripped over the fabric. Instead La Chimi, transformed her costume into a dance partner, embracing the dress as though it had a life of its own.

Nuñez elicited charmed reactions from the audience with his “Soleá por Bulerías,” an intermediate step that unites the classic “soleá,” or improvised flamenco “palo” (traditional musical form) and a “bulería,” or 12-beat rhythm cycle. His formidable height and strong presence allowed him to fully dominate the stage with quick transitions between soft steps and bold thumps. He finished his routine by spinning faster than a top and landing on a dime — a graceful example of the dynamism flamenco is known for.

Timo Nuñez - Photo courtesy of The Fountain Theatre

Timo Nuñez – Photo courtesy of The Fountain Theatre

Though the passion and chemistry remained strong within the second half, some of the first act’s initial power felt partially absent post-intermission, mostly due to each number having a slower build-up to their climactic zapateos. However, there were many standout moments, among which was Barrios’ solo singing. Jerez may be renowned within the flamenco community for his “canto,” but Barrios can certainly hold her own. Her tone ranged from intrepid to sweet when singing “Alegrías,” a flamenco palo with a 12-beat lively rhythm, which Nuñez matched with a softer, less intense performance than his first iteration on stage. His footwork picked up speed with Barrios’ increased tempo and their duality melted into one melodic whole. Basile’s “Soleá” also took on a generally slower, but controlled pace. Her anguished expressions matched Moro, Pakan, and Jerez’s heartfelt song about a romance gone wrong. Though her feet were more subtle, her balletic arms told another story altogether — one dripping with intense turmoil and grief.

Mourning transformed into jovial excitement during the “Fin de Fiesta” (“Party Finale”) for an uplifting conclusion. Head-turning twirls and exuberant skirt flares playfully persisted all the way up until the final curtain call.

Originally, a second show with a different artistic cast was meant to be featured the next day, Sunday, August 30. The performance was cancelled for unknown reasons. Judging by the zest garnered the night before, one can only hope that The Fountain’s new Flamenco al Fresco tradition will continue to stay alive and well so that enthusiasts (or first time viewers!) will not miss an opportunity to see what will most likely be another wonderful production.

The next performances of Flamenco al Fresco are scheduled for September 24 – 26, 2021. For more information and tickets please visit The Fountain Theatre website HERE.

Written by Lara Altunian for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Forever Flamenco – Lakshmi Basile and Manuel Gutierrez – Photos courtesy of The Fountain Theatre