Bulerías in Manhattan

Rosalía Gómez. New York, February 2007

One of the greatest pleasures about attending Flamenco Festival USA is to observe, night after night, how some of the most mythical stages in the history of show business such as Carnegie Hall, the City Center and Town Hall are filled with a noisy crowd who, unbiased, enjoy and fervently applaud all kinds of flamenco shows. And it isn’t that this artform is unknown in the city of New York, or in other cities in the United States, where over seventy years ago the businessman of Russian ancestry Solomon Hurok made La Argentinita and Carmen Amaya triumph, among others, before thousands of spectators.


Paco de Lucía (Photo archive Daniel Muñoz)

But those times ended and it has taken Miguel Marín, director of this blooming festival, seven years to reap in such ripe fruit as what we’ve been able to observe in this month of February which has just finished. Seven editions marked by a sign of risk and precariousness - that of not knowing what means and what support the next edition will have - which can and must make way for economic stability and with it, greater solidity.

Marín knows that in the United States, where he worked for a few years before beginning this adventure, it’s necessary to play by the rules laid down by its renowned theaters which, in turn, contribute their own following. Faithful spectators who for the past few years have been joined by a growing audience of the Festival itself, capable of excitedly following every event in its schedule.

The present edition of Flamenco Festival USA, the seventh one as has been said, has offered eight varied shows at four theaters in New York - the three aforementioned ones and the cozy Skirball -, at two in Boston and at Lisner Auditorium in Washington D.C., three of which have traveled to other states and to Canada in what its director has called the Flamenco Festival On Tour.

The inauguration took place on February 3rd at Town Hall with a glamorous Estrella Morente who knew how to completely win over an auditorium which, at the end of her show, surrendered to her unconditionally. It was followed by Paco de Lucía, always a sure bet, as he has demonstrated in the ten concerts, all of them sell-outs, which he has done in the setting of the Festival. In his performance at Carnegie Hall, the Algeciras-born artist went back over his most famous songs until the audience forced him with their applause to do several encores, including one of his special versions of the immortal Entre dos aguas. He brought together in its twenty-eight hundred seats numerous international music celebrities as well as Spaniards as beloved as writers Elvira Lindo and Antonio Muñoz Molina, who has just left as director of the prestigious Cervantes Institute of New York.

Joaquín Grilo (Photo archive Daniel Muñoz)

Coming to the City Center along with the snow on the fifteenth was the Bienal de Sevilla Gala, together with its director, Domingo González. Undoubtedly dedicated to the youngest crowd on the flamenco scene, it was split up into two parts. The first one starred Manuel Liñán, Marco Flores and Olga Pericet, a trio used to performing together and therefore, besides their respective solo bailes - seguiriya, cantiñas and soleá - brought a fresh, well-applauded choreography together as well as the merit of having among their musicians, as on other occasions, Antonia Jiménez, one of the few female Andalusian guitarists fighting to make a place for herself in a profession so far dominated nearly exclusively by men. In the second part, Marín gathered a threesome of bailaores who in their appearance at the last edition of Bienal de Sevilla left magnificent moments of baile, and who to a large extent represent three great centers of Andalusian flamenco like Granada, Seville and Jerez. Curiously, it was Granada-born Fuensanta la Moneta, the youngest one, who danced por alegrías wearing a bata de cola while Sevillian Isabel Bayón - winner at the Bienal for her show La puerta abierta - devoted herself to a winding seguiriya full of nuances, accompanied by the mighty voice of José Valencia, who had been preceded by a trilla sung by young Jerez-born Carmen Grilo. The baile from Jerez, represented by Joaquín Grilo in an unhurried, solemn soleá which, as could be expected, ended with classical, vibrant bulerías, put an end to a long evening which satisfied the expectations of the attending audience, judging by their reaction.

Arriving on the sixteenth was the show by Rafaela Carrasco, Una mirada del flamenco, an example of her highly-stylized flamenco which was not only admired and applauded by the adult crowd at night, but thanks to an exemplary program by New York City Hall in collaboration with the Festival, it was put on for over two thousand attentive schoolchildren in a somewhat shortened version in a matinée, after the pupils had received a visit at their respective schools by six teachers who initiated them in the mysteries and rhythms of flamenco art.


Sara Baras (Photo archive Daniel Muñoz)

Sara Baras with her latest show, Sabores, the star a few days earlier at the private gala which Turismo Andaluz (Andalusian Tourism) usually organizes for the most important tour operators in the area, also had sell-out crowds two straight nights at the City Center, on the second one starring in one of those unforgettable scenes of collaboration between artists when rock musician Tim Rice got up on stage and improvised an exceptional duo with the Cádiz-born artist.

The last three shows took place at the Skirball Theater, a pleasant venue with very good acoustics located at the famous Washington Square, somewhat smaller than the previous ones, which with the same affection welcomed guitarist Gerardo Núñez and his quintet (with marvelous touches of baile by Carmen Cortés), and the following night, El Pele (with the collaboration of Edu Lozano on baile), who was really thrilling in a memorable concert which the artist from Córdoba had to end, following several encores, with his usual hit, Vengo del moro.

Finally, the icing was put on the cake of the Festival on February 24th with the show Biznagas, conceived and performed by José Luis Ortiz Nuevo with the participation of nearly thirty artists, all of them from Málaga, including the verdiales gang of Santo Pita, whom the entire theater greeted by clapping to the beat when, at the end of the evening, they crossed the audience with their violin music and colorful hats.

Personal tastes aside, and judging by the massive response from the public, there’s no doubt that Flamenco Festival USA, which made way for the also successful Flamenco Festival London, has not only been a big hit in itself but also opens new roads for the development of flamenco art in the U.S. New ways which its director intends to explore year after year and which he has already begun, on the one hand, with a sort of off festival in which there was a performance this year at New York’s Joyce Theater by the Metros Company directed by Ramón Oller and their show Carmen, a small masterpiece of contemporary dance which has dancer Cristian Lozano (ex-member of the Ballet Nacional de España) in the role of Escamillo, and on the other hand, with a series of activities (lectures, workshops...) realized in collaboration with institutions such as the Cervantes Institute of New York and the Juan Carlos I Center, including the presentation of Bienal Málaga en Flamenco 2007 by its director, José Luis Ortiz Nuevo.

More information:

Flamenco Festival USA 2007. Full program

Estrella Morente triumphs at the opening of Flamenco Festival USA 2007

Paco de Lucía bedazzles at Flamenco Festival New York 2007

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