Fiery Footwork

Jose Porcelas Ballet Flamenco is raw, unrefined dance

Photo by Chacena S. A.Why do people wear activity-appropriate outfits to performances? Don't they realize ballerinas never actually wear those toilet-cleaner-type tutus themselves? Imagine if everyone attended baseball games in cleats, swim meets in Speedos or tap dance performances in taps. It'd be . . . strangely exciting. For a while. Until we reached the flamenco.

I find the flamenco audience cartel particularly foreign. The last time I attended a flamenco performance, the women in the audience looked ready to storm the stage: dames in ruffled, full-length skirts -- some in capes -- strode the lobby and wrung their hands. Nearly every woman in the bathroom line sported a shawl of some kind, draped across the hips, neck or elsewhere. Fortunately, they have their apologists.

"It is a wonderful way to express our history and our future at the same time," explains the noted dancer Jose Porcel, star of Ballet Flamenco, at Orange County Performing Arts Center this weekend. To understand the culture, one must observe the dance, he says: "The emotions that are expressed in flamenco are the ones that everyone feels and can relate to." Which, maybe, accounts for all the capes: flamenco's origins are nothing if not universal. It's a distinctive expression of culture, a stew of Arabic-Egyptian, Jewish and Gypsy-Indian influences brewed by the poor Gypsy folk of southern Spain, where the dance originated. An exceedingly private people, accustomed to being perceived as the outsiders in caste-oriented Spain, they created a dance to celebrate themselves.

In class, flamenco's straightforward. You watch the teacher and repeat, stomping your feet and articulating your head. It's sexy and earthy, and the vibrations from the floor well up in your body, creating an odd, warm sensation -- kind of like drinking whiskey. But onstage, as you'll see with Ballet Flamenco, the focus bounces back and forth between the singers, instrumentalists and dancers; the lament is in Spanish, the dancers improvise (which is rarely taught in class), and the audience interacts with the performers, tossing out catcalls and inarticulate bravos. The performance has a deep cultural feel, a primal scream attached to fiery footwork -- not a ballet dancer's subtle hum or a modernist's quirky, abstract poses.

So it is with Porcel, a native of Sevilla, who paid his dues with flamenco's best: Paco Romero, Isabel Quintero, Cristobal Reyes, Pedro Azorin and Jose Granero. He's also choreographed with renowned flamencologist Federico Torres in the Teatro Principal de Alicante, and his company performs traditional flamenco, undiluted by modern influences -- plus a variety of rhythmic forms from bulerias to tientos. So if you're looking for history, flavor and primal scream foot therapy, check them out. And if you want to fit in, don't forget your shawl.


BALLET FLAMENCO JOSE PORCEL, SEGERSTROM HALL, ORANGE COUNTY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 600 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 556-2787; WWW.OCPAC.ORG. THURS.-FRI., OCT. 27-28, 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M. $20-$65.

 
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