“Dancing,” the playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.” Although it’s Argentina that’s best known for creating an archetype of the overt sensualization of dance, it is the Spanish who’ve mastered its inward gaze: the burning emotional (and often sexual) tension that lies just beneath the surface. If the tango is a metaphor for eroticism, then flamenco — birthed in the slums of southern Spain’s Andalucía, refined over centuries by the region’s historic flux of Arabian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Gypsy, and of course Spanish influences — is dance’s foremost metaphor for passion’s churning, oceanic depths.
Under the direction of Ruben Olmo, one of flamenco’s most renowned contemporary practitioners, the 11 dancers of Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía have earned an international reputation for bringing the flavors of classical ballet, in which Olmo trained, to this hundreds-years-old form.
By the hidebound standards of what is often called flamenco puro, Olmo is something of a heretic. Olmo’s background makes him a “bailarin,” one who has trained in a variety of flamenco styles, rather than a “bailaora,” one who has studied only flamenco. The defenders of the dance form’s unadulterated essence have harsh words for those who tinker with the formula. But critics and audiences, and increasingly young, up-and-coming dancers, find Olmo’s ideas, and especially his moves on the stage, compelling enough to shrug off concerns about tradition. Passion, as is so often the case, resonates at more powerful frequencies than tradition.
“Flamenco has always been an art that has been enriched with other styles, and the artists always have that necessity,” Olmo said via e-mail. “Nowadays flamenco enriches itself with other styles, making it more stronger.”
As with all wordless languages, flamenco requires little existing knowledge to appreciate; the music and the dancers speak directly to the heart. In essence, there are three basic elements to flamenco: cante, the song, baile, the dance, and toque, the guitar. The minimalist character of the most classical forms of the dance often involve little more than a single guitar player and singer matched with a lone dancer, who typically improvises a physical response to the music and the lyrics: a ritualized frenzy of circling arms, stamping feet, undulating torso, and fierce glares, all punctuated by a brilliant swirl of fans, castanets, and ruffled dresses known as bata de cola. Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía builds on these fundamentals and adds to them a healthy dollop of contemporary forms.
“The different styles that I put in my shows are the ones I develop in my own dance ‘Escuela Bolera,’ plus stylized dance, contemporary dance, and of course flamenco,” Olmo explains.
The program the company will present at the TD Arena for Spoleto, entitled “Noche Andaluza” (“Andalusian Night”) is a premiere of several new dances based on a work entitled “Suite Flamenca,” Olmo says, “where you can see the different styles of flamenco.” “Noche Andaluza” highlights what Olmo says are the classical and folk elements in the dance’s traditional form, as well as the highly disciplined technique of the 11-member ensemble. The work also features the singular interpretation of soloist Pastora Galvan, an internationally renowned soloist. The dancers will share the stage with an ensemble of six live musicians: two guitars, one female singer, one male singer, a percussionist, and another on what Olmo calls “saxo-flute.”