Dallas — A weakened old gentleman of La Mancha lies on his deathbed, surrounded by servants and relatives gossiping about how he has squandered his fortune and his life trying to right wrongs and destroy the wicked by setting out like a medieval knight, but confounding the enemy with innocent windmills and other bystanders.
Then an exquisite, sultry melody rises from the piano stage left, a flute picks up the song, and a rich male voice begins to wail as another musician strokes the wooden Cajon in an insistent rhythm. In a suddenly poignant and comic scene, the old man pulls himself up, straddles the mattress on his cast iron bed and rocks back and forth to the music. His armor is intact, his face is aglow and he's not quite ready to die, after all.
The old man is Cervantes' heroically incompetent knight-errant, of course, brought back for one last adventure in the touching and hilarious La Muerte de Don Quixote, written and directed by Matthew Posey for Ochre House’s 2019 Dallas Flamenco Festival. The fifth collaboration with the flamenco dancers and singers of the Festival, the new 80-minute work features choreography by Antonio Arrebola, Delilah Buitron Arrebola and Juan Paredes, with original music by Alfonso Cid, Alex Conde and José Cortés Fernandéz, who also perform onstage.
Fans familiar with these artists and this fertile collaboration filled the small 50-seat theater on opening night to see the latest conjuring. Many of the same artists appeared in Posey's Buñuel Descending, a portrait of the surrealist filmmaker. Like previous Festival entries, Perro y Sangre, and El Conde Dracula, the new work is sung in Spanish and written with some Spanish dialogue.
Here, the famous fictional knight is given one last chance to sally forth into the world to gain glory and defeat evil in its steps. His two young nieces are fretful, but weary of their uncle's crazy behavior. Their talk sounds like tired relatives fretting about relatives with senile dementia. Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso and Elizabeth Evans, both dark-eyed, lively beauties outfitted in costume designer Fernando Hernandez’s lacy black dresses and veils, are at the hand-wringing point.
The Don's servant/squire Sancho Panza (funny, adorable Chris Sykes with a belly strapped on his lithe figure) explains it all to the attending Padre (thin, adventurous Omar Padilla), and they all break into a playful dance, part traditional flamenco steps, part chorus line moves.
Sancho brings the news that a foe even more powerful and evil than his old enemy, the Knight of the White Moon, is approaching. This brings on the rising climax of the play and the exciting and passionate dancing of tall, virile Arrebola and his lovely petite wife Delilah in the role of Dulcinea, the simple servant girl Don Quixote insists is a great lady and his divine muse. Protest as she might, when this seductive woman appears in a deeply fringed skirt and begins to dance, she truly is an inspiration. These two classically trained dancers project both sensual desire and a larger yearning made immortal in their twirling, stamping bodies. Each time I've seen the Arrebolas dance flamenco, it's been a revealing and stirring experience. Here they take their cues from the characters they play, adding another layer of drama to their performance.
The musicians are a delight in and of themselves. Fernandéz, the cantaor singing with greater and greater volume and speed, pushes the intrepid old man on in his quest to meet and do battle with this last greatest foe. Arrebola, dressed in black, his grey curls glued with sweat to his forehead, matches the pace. The rhythm of his shining boots on the hollow wooden stage and the drumming of the cajon progress in unison, until the dancer's upright body reaches a kind of tremor from head to foot. The chairs in the theater vibrate with the sound; you'd feel the movement, even if you didn't hear the stamping pulse of the dancer.
The climax of this impressive production involves the sudden appearance of a huge and scary puppet, designed by Justin Locklear, Ochre House Artist-in-Residence and sublime puppetmeister.
The finale was clamorous and resounding on opening night, and shouts of “Olé!” filled the room. What happened to the old Don and who won the last battle? The dancers took their bows along with the musicians. I lost track of the huge black puppet; perhaps he slunk off onto the streets of Deep Ellum, defeated by the lively music. At least, for now.