This year, as part of its annual flamenco festival, New York City Center presented Flamenco Hoy by Carlos Saura. With flamenco being one of my favorite art forms, I was thrilled to have such a big name in flamenco coming to NYC but was ultimately disappointed in the production for its lack of continuity and vision.
I was lucky enough to spend a summer living in Seville, Spain working at the Museo del Baile Flamenco learning the history of flamenco with its many origins that span continents and cultures and its importance within the culture. I think it would take a lifetime to truly understand all the facets of flamenco, including the unteachable component of the “duende” or spirit which is supposed to be present during flamenco.
Carlos Saura is a film director who is most famous for his trilogy of films from the 1980s where he collaborated with famed dancers/choreographers Antonio Gades and Cristina Hoyos, and musician Paco de Lucia. Since then, he has continued to produce movies that tell the story of flamenco. His staged production of Flamenco Hoy (meaning Flamenco Today) was made up of 20 different scenes that spanned the many styles of flamenco from the folksy Sevillanas to the deeply sad solea. Carlos Saura says the aim of his show is “the creation of a theatrical music show that is respectful, rhythmic, profound, and beautiful to look at, using the diversity of interwoven factors that have shaped flamenco.”
Overall, Saura’s vague aim might have been achieved but the point of the show was missed. It was confusing to watch 20 incongruous scenes for 2 hours that spanned from large-scale theatrical pieces to interludes with a jazz flute and from a deconstructed look at a rehearsal to a traditional bulerias with jaunting. The most bizarre point occurred when three female dancers performed a spritely balletic piece using castanets and the next scene was a dark set with grids projected onto the stage as if it were something out of The Matrix.
For someone like me who has a knowledge of flamenco and of Carlos Saura, I know that his work is generally a deconstructed look at flamenco dance – giving a look behind the scenes. In fact, the genius of the movie Carmen (1983) is that the story of Carmen gets intertwined into the plot of the story. In this production however, the audience couldn’t help but feel like they were being put in many different places. It was difficult for one to constantly adjust their perspective. For example, one did not know if choreographer Rafael Estevez would be serious or tongue-in-cheek. Or if there would be harem pants, fuete turns, tors jetes, and petit allegro as there was in “Fandango, de Boccherini” that was designed by Carlos Saura “as a portrait on the life of a dance company.” Harem pants aside, if this piece had been expanded it could have made for a wonderful evening of dance.
All in all, I wish the production had pushed more toward the avant-garde instead of staying in the strange middle ground stuck tethered to the traditional presentation.