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Maria Bermúdez Flamenco – Los Angeles Dance Review

 

THE REAL THING

 

 

picture - Maria Bermudez FlamencoDance Review

by Tony Frankel 

published August 1, 2010 

 

Maria Bermúdez Flamenco

recently played in Los Angeles at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre 

 

There are many forms of dance and song that emerged as a celebration of life amidst human suffering, but surely Flamenco thrillingly stands out as an example of such an art form. There are moments in the music that clearly reflect Indian, Islamic and Moorish influence. Some Flamenco music styles (palos) have been attributed to Jewish influences, as the Jews were firmly ensconced in Iberia since Roman times. And Andalusia, home to Flamenco, is in the south of the Iberian Peninsula. Let’s leave it to the historians as to which cultures directly influenced Flamenco – the fact is, we have it, and Maria Bermúdez, who played a two-night stint at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, is a preeminent figure in the Flamenco world – her stunning virtuosity in music and dance, and her uncanny ability to gather unparalleled artists, makes for a most captivating evening.

 

The traditional Flamenco in Maria Bermúdez Flamenco is not the overblown touristy Cruise Ship show, but Flamenco in its purest form, as it can be observed in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, where Bermudez resides. The use of improvisation and spontaneity are evident, especially when you witness her hand-picked company of musicians, dancers, and singers named Sonidos Gitanos (Gypsy Sounds); these impeccable artists work together seamlessly, occasionally eyeing each other’s body parts (feet, hands, hips and eyes) as they perform with rhythmic intention – no differently than the most passionate lover looks upon a paramour during sex. ¿Hace calor aqui?

 

Each of her tours features various musicians that are the best that Spain has to offer. The evening opened with the lissomely nimble Flamenco guitarist Jesús Alverez (Al Toque) whose fingers should be insured by Lloyd’s of London. He accompanied the powerful Flamenco Singers Ana De los Reyes and Miguel Rosendo (Al Cante). These are no ordinary singers; to the untrained ear, it may seem like they are struggling to hold a note, but that wailing and fluttering is the evolved style of the suffering Gypsy, and, at times, sounds eerily like the plaintive yowling of nomadic Native American tribes. If you can not figure out the rhythms of the Singers clapping, they are variations on a 12-beat meter: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, etc.

 

picture - Maria Bermudez FlamencoFor this concert, Bermúdez incorporates what she calls the Chicana Gypsy Project, a sound that crosses cultures from Spain to Los Angeles, from Flamenco to jazz. So it was no surprise when electric guitarist Lolo Bernal, acoustic bassist Paco Lobo, and drummer Tato Macias (all highly accomplished musicians) joined the guitarist and singers. The elegant Maria comes out and immediately hits the dance floor, accompanied by a traditional soleá; clearly, this is a woman who is celebrating passion with her astounding footwork. The great dancer then immediately composes herself and approaches the microphone for a jazzy rendition of the Gershwin song “Summertime,” in which she employs a throaty, breathy and earthy tone. In between stanzas, she’s back on the dance floor, swirling, swatting, grasping, and clutching the cool, evening air in her undulating hands – thrusting the night into her body.

 

Her most successful vocal was “Piensa en mi” (Think of Me), nailing the blues with a heartrending lightness. She is an amazing performer to behold.

 

A rendition of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” had a bluesy accompaniment on electric guitar fusing with the singers’ Flamenco clapping – two styles that did not always blend successfully during the evening, but cacophonous moments such as these were rare. Once gypsy violinist Bernardo Parilla joined in during Monk’s “Round Midnight,” the Flamenco and driving rock merged perfectly – Señor Parilla attacked his violin with fervency and strength. One wondered that his instrument didn’t catch on fire. (Later, after the curtain call, he smashed his violin to pieces on stage – I asked many people why he did that – most shrugged their shoulders and said, “Ha! Gypsies.”)

 

Overall, the fusionist elements, some with abrupt changes, had a 50/50 success rate. The standout sections were decidedly traditional Flamenco, and consistently scored well with the ardent admirers in the audience.  

 

Juan Ogalla, the special guest dancer (bailaor) of the night is Flamenco at its most formidable; his storytelling hands were dramatic, strong, and suave (not to mention that he could be the Spanish James Bond). The most exquisite moment occurred when the guitarist held down all of the strings and strummed while Señor Ogalla fastidiously tapped.

 

Later, during the Alegrías del Rancho suite, the guitarist and singers appeared mesmerized, as if they were an orchestra being conducted by Señor Ogalla’s dexterous feet. We were equally awestruck and captivated by the BEST toe-tapping ever witnessed live. When he slapped his body, clearly mimicking the matador waving the ferocious bull on, it was enthralling.

 

picture - Maria Bermudez FlamencoGold album recording artist Ildefonso “Pelé” De los Reyes was quite engaging when he sang “De Vuelta á Jerez,” even though the Spanish poetry was indiscernible to my gringo ears; it was clear that he was telling a story of the heart. Equally, Ana De los Reyes stunned, not only in her solos, but when she got up from her chair and flawlessly danced the Flamenco – sensual doesn’t begin to describe the sensation of watching a big woman move so effortlessly. The fact that the entire band backed her up (every musician had a chance to shine) made for one hot performance.

 

A nod must go to Pili Cordero for Senora Bermúdez’ costumes, especially a dusty-copper dress and the ranchero-inspired black and cranberry-flowered number with ruffled tiers, purple sash, and sombrero.

 

NOTE:  For those who missed the concert, producer Deborah Lawlor also serves up Forever Flamenco! on the first and third Sunday of every month at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. Señora Bermúdez used to perform there, but legions of fans around the world keep her from her native Los Angeles. The capable artists at the Fountain vary from performance to performance. Get the schedule at www.fountaintheatre.com.

 

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

 

photos by Miguel Angel Gonzalez

 

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