- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

Flamenco fiery, sensual and expressive is one of the most distinctive art forms Spain has produced.
Thursday, the second annual Flamenco Festival comes to George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium. Scheduled through Feb. 8, it will feature some of Spain's premiere performers.
"Flamenco seems like a very small word, but there is so much to it," says Lou Elias, artistic director for the Spanish Dance Society in Southeast. "It's a very deep art form. It's not just technically demanding. It's about self-expression and can be very spiritual."
Flamenco involves wailing, singing, dramatic dancing, exquisite and rhythmically intense guitar music and the vivid participation of an audience that's in the know the crowd claps, shouts and stomps.
Aficionados of the art form say words simply are not enough to describe flamenco or justly portray its impact on the soul. It has to be experienced.
Dancer Eva La Yerbabuena, lauded as one of Spain's very best, will perform Jan. 26. Miss La Yerbabuena participated in a 1998 documentary film about flamenco called "Flamenco Women," by British director Mike Figgis.
Antonio Canales, known as a virtuoso traditional dancer, will perform Jan.30. "He's amazing. His footwork is incredibly fast…. It's like he's wired," Ms. Elias says.
When someone such as Mr. Canales performs, an audience may shout, "Viva la maquina de escribir" ("Long live the typewriter"). The heels of the dancer move so quickly they sound like a clicking machine.
"The footwork is so fast, it's like a spasm. You literally dance yourself into a trance," says Ms. Elias, who is a flamenco dancer and teacher at the Oxford Academy of the Arts at 401 Eighth St. SE near Eastern Market.
Among other dancers who will perform at the festival are El Guito, Manuela Carrasco, Israel Galvan, Manuel Soler and Maria Pages. They represent several styles and generations of dancers.
The festival concludes with one of Spain's most famous flamenco guitarists, Vicente Amigo, who will take the stage Feb. 8.
As a very young man from Seville, the Andalusian center for flamenco, Mr. Amigo discovered the work of Paco de Lucia. Mr. de Lucia is an earlier-generation flamenco guitarist who helped elevate flamenco music to an art form yet again after it had been commercialized as mainly a tourist attraction during Francisco Franco's dictatorship.
"Amigo is the most outstanding of his generation. … He's an extremely respected guitarist," says Henry Jova, a resident of Southeast and a longtime amateur flamenco guitar player.
Traditionally, the guitarist, who keeps the rhythm, follows the dancer's moves (and wishes), while the dancer follows the lyrics and intensity of the singer. The artists signal one another when they want to make a change in the course of the performance, Ms. Elias says.
"A stomp can be a call to the guitarist that the dancer wants to change the rhythm," she says.
At best, the fusion among the three artists is so complete that transitions are seamless even though the music, dance and song are half-planned and half-improvised.
The history behind flamenco is debated by aficionados. It evolved in southern Spain, but its sources are many.
"Flamenco represents the confluence of the East and the West," says Ellen Echeverria, professor of Spanish and coordinator of the Spanish Language Program at George Washington University.
Gypsies are believed to have brought the roots of flamenco with them when they came to Spain in the 15th century. Its popularity surged in the 19th century, which is generally referred to as "the golden age of flamenco."
The poetry behind the lyrics of even today's flamenco songs originate in medieval singing, Ms. Echeverria says.
"They sing about love and they sing about death," she says. "It's like jazz. It's a lament."
Ms. Echeverria is teaching a course this semester on flamenco's roots and its place in Spanish society between popular culture and high art. The course is open to GW students. In May, she will hold a discussion on flamenco sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates. The discussion is open to the public.
In the 1920s, when the popularity of flamenco was fading, celebrated poet Frederico Garcia Lorca organized a flamenco festival in Granada, a major city in Andalusia, which helped bring the art form to center stage again, at least briefly.
Mr. Lorca also wrote a poem, "A Las Cinco de la Tarde" ("At 5 in the Afternoon"), in which he talks about the relationship between bullfighting and flamenco. Both have deep roots in society's socioeconomically marginal groups.
"Bullfighting and flamenco are both from the same part of Spain. They have attracted people from the same background. Many families have some members who are bullfighters and others who are flamenco artists," Mr. Jova says.
"Some of the stances in bullfighting and flamenco dancing are even the same."
Although commercialized during the Franco regime (the mid-1930s to 1975), virtuoso flamenco experienced a renaissance in the 1990s. People from Barcelona in the north to Granada in the south could not get enough of it. Portions of the music were then melded with pop, rock and jazz, which created sounds and songs that can be heard on dance floors and nightclubs all over Spain.
"It might sound crazy, but I see similarities between rap and flamenco," Ms. Elias says. "They were developed by poor people and deal with the human condition. Now they are embraced by everyone."

WHAT: Second annual Flamenco Festival
WHERE: George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, Gala de Andalucia; 8 p.m. next Saturday, Eva la Yerbabuena Ballet Flamenco; 8 p.m. Jan. 30, Antonio Canales Ballet Flamenco; 8 p.m. Feb. 8, Vicente Amigo and Ensemble.
TICKETS: $20 to $40 with 50 percent off select seats for GW students
PHONE: For tickets, call 202/432-SEAT; for more information, call 202/994-6800.

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