Thalia Theatre shows how flamenco is done

By Arlene McKanic

Watching a performance of “Jaleo Flamenco” starring the Andrea del Conte Danza Espana last Sunday at the Thalia Spanish Theatre in Sunnyside made me think of how Kurt Cobain described performing on stage: “It’s anger, it’s death and absolute total bliss.”

These are but some of the wild but controlled emotions at work in a good flamenco performance, which is not just a lot of jackhammer stomping but palmas (clapping) pitos (snapping) gritos (shouting), elaborate finger gestures inherited from the Far East, a wailing style of cante (singing) reminiscent of the Middle East, and music, provided in this case by Arturo Martinez and Cristian Puig on the guitars and Sean Kupisz on the bass guitar and percussion, which was nothing more than a wooden box.

Much of flamenco seems highly ritualized as well as improvisational, and the dancers have the rigorous discipline to know what every part of their body and every piece of their clothing is doing in relation to everything else, from their fingers to their toes and heels to their colorful flounced dresses and fringed shawls. The songs were all in Spanish, of course, and the writer assumed that they were all about doomed love and unrequited passion.

Since flamenco is the regional dance of Andalusia, Spain, many of the dances are named after cities. The program began with “Sevillanas” (from Seville) choreographed by Yloy Ybarra and danced by Ybarra, the tigress-like Maya de Silva and the willowy but powerful Mieko Seto (yes, she’s Japanese — flamenco’s for everyone!). It was followed by “Caracoles,” danced by Andrea del Conte, whose intensity and passion at times recalled a priestess performing a rite that was not quite safe; at one point she danced with a Martha Grahamish simplicity and gravity.

She was followed by Alfonso Cid, who sang mournfully. Then came “Pasajes,” danced by Ybarra, de Silva, Seto and guest artist Isaac de Los Reyes.

The performance was canceled the week before because Los Reyes was stranded in Spain, which was our loss because he’s astonishing. There’s a term in flamenco called “duende,” which translates into something like being possessed by the spirit of the dance.

Though it was hard to take one’s eyes off of all the other dancers, Los Reyes, tall, lithe, with burning eyes, completely dominated the stage whenever he was on it. His solo, “Seguiriyas,” which he choreographed, had the audience almost cheering.

After a pleasing musical interlude, the company danced “Mundo Soledad” against a backdrop of what looked like the Chrysler Building. I wondered if this segment had been added since the World Trade Center catastrophe. The piece was inspired by the great poet Garcia Lorca’s “Poeta en Nueva York,” and part of it reads, “Dawn arrives and no one receives it in his mouth, because tomorrow and hope are impossible there.”

Part Two was made up largely of solos, which began with a “Cante Solo” sung by Chayito Champion, resplendent in a scarlet costume with mantilla comb and flowers in her hair. After her, de Silva danced “Solea Por Buleria,” followed by Yloy Ybarra’s ardent “Alegrias” and Seto’s “Tientos.”

Her solo was followed by “Seguiriyas.” Andrea del Conte performed the strangely melancholy and beautiful “Soleares” dressed in a white costume with red roses in her hair and red shoes on her feet. “Fin de Fiesta” was danced exuberantly by the company, and after the curtain call, they exited dancing. The audience felt like dancing out after them.

“Jaleo Flamenco” will be at the Thalia, 41-17 Greenpoint Ave., through Oct. 7, and will join a three-month festival of Latin American and Spanish arts at Flushing Town Hall. They’ll perform there at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, followed by “Todo Tango/All that Tango” on Nov. 16. There’s an exhibit of the works of New York Hispanic artists at Town Hall through Dec. 30, and there will be a concert by David Valentin on Nov. 2. A Dec. 9 classical music concert will feature works by Hispanic composers.

Special daytime performances of Jaleo Flamenco and Ballet Fiesta Mexicano for the kids can be booked directly with the Education Department of Flushing Council. Call Betty Smith at 463-7700, ext. 239.

Go to any or all of these — it will definitely get your mind off the world for a little while.

Reach Qguide writer Arlene McKanic by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

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