There are a number of events and venues here in L.A. which I always feel are under appreciated. I’m talking about places and performances unique to this city, one or the other, of which the fine folks living here would relish the experience. I’m talking such civic treasures as The Museum of Jurassic Technology, the pay-what-you-can nights at the Odyssey and the Actors’ Gang, Sky’s Tacos, Wende Cold War Museum, the free summer concerts held at the California Plaza, as well as those offered by LAMAC. But close to topping that list would be the “Forever Flamenco” series staged at the Fountain Theatre.
I confess to having known very little about the distinctive Spanish folk dance before I attended a presentation of “Forever Flamenco”, but thanks to Deborah Lawlor who founded the series nine years ago, I am now a hardcore wannabe aficionado.
The flamenco “juerga” is comparable to the jam sessions of jazz. Drawing on local and visiting talents and an informal structure, both the juerga and the jam session offer an opportunity for improvisation and experimentation, but more importantly they offer artists the inspiration only to be found among their peers.
“Fiesta Navidad” described as “San Francisco meets Los Angeles by way of Spain, France and Japan in a celebration of the holidays” is representative of the amazing talents to be found in every show.
We open with El baile flamenco, the dancers, Mizuho Sato, Briseyda Zarate and Yaelisa, an internationally recognized star, who doubles as the artistic director. It is amazing to see the power and grace expressed by these artists.
Mizuho Sato, a Japanese born dancer and a testament to the global appeal of flamenco, is one of the talents that appear regularly in these L.A. juergas. There is a Japanese term that can be applied perfectly to flamenco: “sabi”. It generally pertains to objects d’art, such as tea service sets, but it can be used in describing people as well. It means a kind of “beautiful patina” that can only be bestowed by age. These women radiate “sabi”.
Accompanying the dancers is guitarist Jason McGuire, “El Rubio”. McGuire does not “play” the guitar, he dominates it. One of the benefits of the Fountain’s intimate venue is the opportunity of witnessing the concentrated intensity of flamenco and the abundance that it yields. You see it in McGuire’s fingering and are mystified by how such a subtleness of hand motions can produce such a tempest of tones. It is seen in the dancers too, who seem to stake out a small path of the stage from which the stamping of their feet elicits a tempo that builds to an impossible fury and then exceeds it.
Other than McGuire there is only the “palmas” of the dancers, their hand clapping, and Manuel Gutierrez beating out a rhythm on a “cajon”, in this case an orange crate. But the music which you are given is more than most philharmonic orchestras can boast. Gutierrez is another mainstay of these evenings. A dancer of such power that one has to think he trembles the earth when on stage.
Kina Mendez was my first female cantadore, the singer, called the soul of the flamenco. Mendez’ songs quicken the heart to the pace that she sets.
The evening ended with the audience conferring a standing ovation on the performers. But if the audience were to bestow on them the appreciation the evening deserved, we would still be standing and applauding till the following dawn.