On March 8, 2014, I attended the opening night performance of “Gala Flamenca,” the first of two programs in the Flamenco Festival 2014 at New York’s City Center. Though I was looking forward to the hour and forty minutes of flamenco music and movement ahead (no intermission!), I wondered how the company would be able to hold an audience for that amount of time. As I left the theater that evening, my sense was that the program — considered both as a whole and as separate sections — would have been more engaging if it had been more focused and succinct.
Arresting lighting cues, eye-catching costumes, extreme shifts in sound volume, and striking movement phrases throughout “Gala Flamenca” made it a dramatic and emotionally-charged theatrical experience. At times, I was moved by what I saw, even inclined to interact with the performers somehow. Nonetheless, especially at the one-hour mark, I felt detached and uninterested in what was going on. I checked my phone, while others checked out entirely and left.
As the performance progressed so did the moods of the songs and dances, which shifted from darkness to lighter, though never entirely light. The program consisted of ensemble, solo, and duet dances presented in tandem with songs, melodies, and rhythms performed by the singers and instrumentalists onstage. Every member of the cast appeared thoroughly invested in the experience, all seeming to move, sing, and play from the depths of their souls.
In flamenco music and dance, the interaction between performers is vital to the form. There is a fundamental link between sound and movement, and the lines between these two categories are blurry. “Gala Flamenca” was no exception. Though all of the performers were billed as a dancer, singer, or instrumentalist, their separation of roles was not so cut-and-dried. Singers would step into the circle of dancers and improvise movement of their own. Instrumentalists would lend their voices to the songs being sung. And the dancers’ snapping fingers, clapping hands, and stamping feet drove the program forward with rhythmic, pulsing energy.
The choreography suggested an attempt to fuse flamenco movements with those found in other dance genres. Sometimes, this interdisciplinary approach was pleasantly thought-provoking. At other times—for example, the fourth time that a quintuple, parallel pirouette to the right was tacked onto the end of flamenco phrase—it was distracting and off-putting.
The dancers, who ranged in age and movement training, dealt differently with this fusion of movement styles. Some of the dancers were most comfortable, or at least most experienced, executing classical flamenco movements, while others were inclined to let modern, jazz, and contemporary movement styles influence their approach to executing steps. The most notable dissimilarity was the way the dancers carried their backs. Even when the choreography called for a drop or downward curve of the spine, only some allowed their backs to bend deeply and their weight to fall fully.
Carlos Rodriguez and Karime Amaya gave particularly impressive solo performances. Rodriguez’s movement—clear and fresh without distracting ornamentation—is nicely complemented by his genuine approach to engaging with an audience. Amaya, a strong, captivating dancer, commanded my attention as she moved through nuanced, detailed, and technically stunning footwork series.
As I am not a trained musician, I cannot offer much of an assessment of the singers’ and instrumentalists’ performances. I can report, however, that the sounds they produced were not always balanced or blended.
Certain aspects of this performance left me puzzled. Over the course of the program, dancers regularly missed their lighting marks or didn’t stay within them. Some projected their performances to the balcony and mezzanine, others only to the orchestra, and still others appeared oblivious that there was any audience at all. Hairpins went flying, hairpieces flew across the stage, and hairstyles grew more and more disheveled. These sorts of events are unprofessional, and for that reason, unexpected in a traditional theater setting. Since the dancers on stage were highly skilled and experienced performers, it seemed odd to me that they wouldn’t have considered these relatively fundamental elements of performance in a theater.
I was similarly perplexed by the behavior of the audience. Many audience members came in late, others (including the show’s director) used their phones to snap mid-performance photos, and some even loudly argued with their neighbors about alleged invasions of personal space. For some— like the man who loudly whispered a request that the person seated next to him stop taking photos with his phone—these kinds of behavior are unacceptable in a theater. With all of this as the backdrop for the events onstage, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Am I missing something here?”
Though I mostly enjoyed my experience at “Gala Flamenca,” I still have the sense that something was being lost on me.