Review: Flamenco, Flamenco
Carlos Saura, 2010; Spain, 2010
by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
FLAMENCO, FLAMENCO opens, and you find yourself hovering just below the vaulted ceiling of Seville’s Pavilion of the Future, a remnant of the 1992 World’s Fair in Spain. Staring into the structure’s severe, track-like arches, you eventually feel a gentle shift. In one fluid motion, the camera carries you down and down, floating you towards and through a giant stand of screens. Each screen bears a blown-up painting or poster of flamenco performers.
Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro delivers the viewer into the irresistible world of flamenco toque (guitar), cante (song) and baile (dance) as director Carlos Saura sees it, as a world of complex, anchoring heritage and liberating creativity.
Saura’s 1995 FLAMENCO also opened with a glide through architectural severity and geometrics. That prequel to FLAMENCO, FLAMENCO similarly presents more than a dozen rhythms interpreted by Joaquín Cortés, María Pagés, Manolo Sanlúcar and other veterans and innovators. This approach to showcasing flamenco represents a break from the format of Saura’s famed trilogy of narrative dance films: BODAS DE SANGRE, CARMEN and EL AMOR BRUJO. Those films, from the 1980’s, featured romantic melodrama interwoven with choreography by their brooding leading man, world-renowned Antonio Gades.
FLAMENCO, FLAMENCO can then be considered FLAMENCO, Part 2 and the handiwork of a director who clearly can’t get enough. Simply stated, Saura’s message is: Flamenco lives. It will always have something new to offer.
The crown jewel of the 2011 Dance on Camera Festival, FLAMENCO FLAMENCO replaces FLAMENCO’s spare, sometimes funky atmosphere with all-out showmanship. The emphasis remains on welcome and intimacy–with the camera sashaying you right up to the performers’ faces as if you’re partnering them. (And you really must see the film on the big screen to get that full, heady effect.) But now lighting on the performers’ flesh and color-drenched backdrops–a palette right out of Frederic Church–suggest the arc of time from late afternoon through high noon of the following day. The idea is subtly narrative, but the look is rich, visually and emotionally charged and anything but understated.
Twenty-one performances pop off the screen in this gallery come to life. Sara Baras swirls the satiny expanse of her cranberry-red dress over a honey-colored floor and painted sunset. Eva Yerbabuena, soaking wet in artificial rain, grieves and writhes in a dramatic scenario of stark darkness and light as singer Miguel Poveda invites her to sleep in his arms. Illuminated in gold, pianist-singers David Dorantes and Diego Amador alchemize a blend of flamenco and jazz as they smile boyishly across their pianos’ interlaced bodies. Young phenomenon, Rocío Molina, cigarette clamped in her lips, and the fabulous Farruquito, bring a fresh, jazzy feel to flamenco, though from opposite poles. Molina fiercely controls the shaping of her body in space and time (La Hermosura de lo Extraño). Farruquito’s exuberant musical response is so immediate that it looks, and could well be, improvisation (Lluvia de Ilusión).
Not everything works equally well. Ensemble numbers tend to be less satisfying–stagey, impersonal pieces in which costuming or set outshine individual expression. Israel Galván, dancing the solo Silencio, remains a taste I have not and might never acquire. His post-flamenco eccentricities of movement and phrasing are showy to the point of being laughable. Saura, tellingly, places him among the gallery’s fussiest, most florid paintings.
I must also mention Jorge Marin’s excellent sound direction and the way this film supports its musicians and, especially, inspiring singers such as Poveda, Emilio Florido (well known to fans of Noche Flamenca) and Niña Pastori. Rich sound brings out the warmth and soulful breath of this powerful, sensuous music.
Near the end, the camera reverses its journey, gradually lifting you away, upward and out to the world of traffic sounds and sirens. It’s a cold jolt, one that’s sure to make you pine for FLAMENCO, FLAMENCO and, perhaps, FLAMENCO, Part 3.
Eva Yaa Asantewaa writes for Dance Magazine and blogs on the arts at InfiniteBody