Dallas — The Oak Cliff Flamenco Festival concluded its weeklong series of events with a Grand Finale Showcase last weekend at the Ervay Theater, a converted movie theater in the Cedars neighborhood. The Flamenco Festival, now in its fourth year, is put on by Dallas’s Ida y Vuelta Flamenco ensemble, which headed by flamenco dancer and advocate Julia Alcántara.
The festival hosted internationally renowned dancer Lakshmi Basile and singer/guitarist Santiago Maya for a six-week-long residency capped off with the showcase. Events leading up to the showcase included a paella night, flamenco classes and demonstrations, and a fashion show that featured Dallas flamenco legend Conte de Loyo’s now retired costumes. At the Saturday showcase artists-in-residence Maya and Basile performed alongside Alcántara, singer José Cortés Fernández, guitarist and composter Adam del Monte, LA-based musician and dancer Manuel Gutierrez, and musician and Ida y Vuelta stalwart Carlos “El Abejorro.”
The performance began with a sultry guitar piece by Adam del Monte, which set the tone for an intimate evening, a tone that was reinforced by the vintage nightclub atmosphere of the Ervay Theater. Del Monte’s skill was on display, especially as the tempo of the piece picked up and energized the room for the music and dance to follow.
The next section of the evening featured music performed by the whole company, a solo dance by Alcántara and partnering between Alcántara and Gutierrez. The duet between Alcántara and Gutierrez highlighted the melodrama that is part and parcel of flamenco. The dancers developed an on-stage chemistry through facial expressions and pointed body language that gave narrative to the dance. Gutierrez’s leather jacket added a “tough guy” flare to his role in way that intensified the story.
Of course, it was Basile who stole the show. As is often the case at flamenco shows — if you miss the footwork, you miss half the performance — audience members lined the narrow walls of the Ervay from start to finish so they wouldn’t miss Basile’s captivating stomps and toe-tapping. Basile, who in 2011 became the only foreign artist in Spain to win the highly regarded prize Concurso de las Minas de La Unión, was born in San Diego but completed her flamenco training in Spain. She now travels worldwide performing flamenco and teaching her dance form to aspiring students. One of the best elements of her performance on Saturday was her precision. She was rhythmically exacting, displaying a musicality that compelled the audience to notice even small hand motions and flicks of the head. Her footwork and handwork brought out the musical themes of each piece to which she performed.
It was, however, Basile’s stage presence as a whole that was most appreciated by the audience. She commanded the attention of the room with her posture alone: shoulders aligned, back tall, the tail of her dress whisking through the air. As with Gutierrez’s leather jacket, Basile’s costumes enriched her performance. She wore long, mesh sleeved dresses that accentuated the lines of her arms overhead.
Singer José Cortés Fernández also knew how to command the room. His deep croon brought out the romantic and at times melancholy qualities of the music and lyrics. In one song he stood up and joined the dancers, as if the performance were not taking place inside but rather outside, with dancers and musicians standing in a plaza or on a street corner.
The show concluded with a “Dance of Death” that featured the whole company. Alcántara, Basile, and Gutierrez performed with hooked canes, beating rhythms out on the floor as the musicians carried the melody behind them. For the audience this was the highlight of the night — and understandably so. The combination of fast footwork, emotive music and Cortez’s impassioned vocals could hardly fail to excite even flamenco novices.
The evening reminded me of one of flamenco’s liberating qualities. Flamenco is not intended to mask the sweaty effort that dancers and musicians must put into a performance. Dancers and musicians often look intense — as if to demonstrate the strength the art form requires. It is in part this quality that, for me, invites audience members into the drama. By witnessing the profound emotion and the physical effort that it takes to do flamenco, we are allowed to participate in the spectacle in a visceral way. Perhaps it is for this reason that flamenco audiences are often devout and cheerfully generous with their “olés.” It’s too bad that we’ll now have to wait a full year for the return of the annual Oak Cliff festival.