Two shades of flamenco

Chitra Kalyani
5 Min Read

The perception of flamenco dancing instantly conjures up images of dancers in swirling red skirts.

Accompanying these figures is the sound of the feverish strumming of guitars, and a song encouraging the clicking heels of the dancer.

The flamenco night, held earlier this week at the Gomhouria Theater, started a little differently – quite literally, minus the frills.

The sound of gunshots echoed in the background as Lebanese dancer Yalda Younes, dressed in a knee-length black dress, slipped into the spotlight.

A shiver seemed to pass through her body as the Lebanese dancer raised her head to face the audience. The clatter of machine gun is heard again, this time though, it emanated from the tapping of Younes’ heel. The room suddenly went cold and silent.

Younes’ performance set to the “music of gunshots and explosions, does indeed send shivers down one’s spine.

Younes’ piece, “NO, is a tribute to Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir. Assassinated in a car explosion in June 2005, Kassir was known for his open criticism of what he saw as Syrian hegemony in Lebanon.

“NO is the product of Younes’ collaboration with Lebanese musician Zad Moultaka, who conceived the choreography and composed the music for the piece.

Initially trained as a ballet dancer at an early age, Younes’ study of flamenco began with her first visit to Spain in 1999. On that anticipated performance – widely hailed in Lebanon – Younes’ Lebanese heritage and Spanish schooling converged together in an explosive moment.

In the dark room, the clicking heels evoked a rattle – steady yet unpredictable – like the onslaught of fire from a machine gun. Younes’ hand fluidly moved as her heels aggressively clanked, in one direction, then another, like the helter-skelter run or the drone of machines. Then came a strong halt and the hand descended forcefully, with an explosion.

The peak of the performance was the silent flamenco. Younes moved backstage into a dimmer, grayish light. The silence solidified, eerie as a graveyard. There was a ghostly tincture to her limbs as soundless steps mimicked some of the previous moves. Only her heavy breathing was heard, as she moved onstage.

In the soundless finale, the dancer’s body was frozen, as if crucified, onstage.

Evoking war and mourning, Younes’ dance is a clever, somewhat fundamental, departure from traditional flamenco. Yet the scenario mimicking a bullfight, or, as pitched, a “quasi-tauromachical struggle and ritual, does not immediately offer the promised “feeling of an inalienable freedom. At best, the after-effect is one of confusion, like the questions that follow death.

A more light-hearted fiesta followed in the form of Pastora Glavan’s performance. The stage was set first by a guitarist offering pondering and romantic tunes. Notes of flamenco sounds came forth slowly at first, rushing into a crescendo, before settling down in sudden peace. The music trickled forth, but never too forcefully, leaving the audience in anticipation.

Soon, a singer joined the guitarist, and the party began as an earthy Glavan, born in a family where dance is a way of life, offered the more traditional flamenco dish.

With the live singing and music, the dance occasionally seemed like a conversation. Heels clicking into the microphones created a momentum carrying the dancer upstage with swinging hips swinging and twirling hands as she revolved around a circle of her own creation, always to a powerful, even boisterous, stomp.

In subsequent songs and dances, Glavan humorously chided the audience that seemed unsure if the number had ended, and hence offered delayed applause.

The Spanish dancer’s performance also brought a touch of the unexpected when, in her finale, she reversed roles with the singer. As Glavan broke into impromptu song, her singer danced to the tune while the amused guitarist carried on strumming.

The Gomhouria Theater’s flamenco night is both a ballroom and a battleground, host in a span of two hours to both celebration and mourning, to convention and its exception.

The flamenco dances were part of the Spring Festival being hosted in Cairo and Beirut from May 1 to 24, showcasing music, singing, dance and literature.

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