- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

“The parallel is to our experience with the blues,” says Rosanna Ruscetti, director of Lisner Auditorium and confessed “den mother” behind the appearance today through Sunday of the fourth annual Flamenco Festival USA.

“Like the blues, there’s a lot of debate about what it is and who does it best,” says Miss Ruscetti, who has twice attended the Bienal de Flamenco in Seville, Spain’s most prestigious festival, to scout talent. “At heart, though, from generation to generation, this form is about deep human experience. It goes beyond language, and in that it expresses itself in a way understandable to audiences everywhere, to people who love music and song and the motion of dance.”

The festival was packaged by a Madrid-based promoter wanting to bring Spain’s best flamenco talent to America. It kicks off at noon today at George Washington University’s Marvin Center with the mayor of Seville, Alfredo Sanchez Monteseirin, discussing flamenco and the influence of Muslim, Christian, and Gypsy cultures of Spain.

Tonight, the performances commence with Gala de Sevilla, a dance festival showcasing a mix of experimental and traditional flamenco performers.

The festival’s anchor is probably the revered Manuela Carrasco, a 46-year-old known as “the empress of flamenco.” One of the most passionate exponents of flamenco puro, or traditional dance, she floats on stage costumed and serene, with long black hair parted in the middle and pulled into a knotted rope hanging behind her. The image is from a Picasso portrait, made more astonishing when she erupts into clear and intense heel-stamping of dazzling complexity and purity.

In counterpoint is Israel Galvan, a startlingly energetic 31-year-old who breaks the stereotypical mold one expects of svelte male Spanish flamenco dancers. He’s pudgy, for one thing, and, moreover, he eschews the classical norms of the formidable Madame Carrasco.

His take is less romantic, and more provocative, a dance of speed and isolating parts of his body in quick-frame flashes that give an almost cubist form of broken lines and silhouettes.

The 72-year-old Antonio Nunez Montoya, who goes by the stage name of Chocolate, will sing. He won a Latin Grammy for best flamenco album in 2002 for “Mis 70 Anos de Cante” [My 70 Years of Singing].

Through the purity of his song, the inescapable conclusion is drawn that flamenco is about more than just footwork and guitars — it’s about body and soul and ache.

Rocio Molina, a lithe 20-year-old from Malaga, sets the stage on fire with a blend of classical and modern movements.

She has won the best female dancer prize in Spain, and by age 14 had already choreographed touring productions in collaboration with Spanish poet Pedro Ramirez Casanova. Thursday evening’s presentation, called “Lio,” will be performed by Jose Merce, a 49-year-old great-grandson of Paco la Luz, the 19th-century maestro of the Jerez flamenco school.

Bushy of hair, intense and practically shaking with emotion, he blends classical song of heartbreak with a touch of Latin beat and flavor. In his ensemble is Manuel Moreno Junquera, known simply as Moraito, a guitarist who, from age 11, has electrified audiences throughout Spain with his classic rendering of flamenco, and who has broadened more recently into composing and solo performances.

The festival concludes Saturday and Sunday with “Blood Wedding” by the Compania Andaluza de Danza, a traditional flamenco company offering narrative dance based on a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain’s greatest 20th-century poet. It’s completely over the top, a love tragedy about as operatic as dance can be.

WHAT: 4th Annual Flamenco Festival USA

WHERE: Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st Street NW (Foggy Bottom/GWU or Farrugut West Metro station)

WHEN: Today through Sunday

TICKETS: $25 to $50

PHONE: Ticketmaster at 202/432-7328; Lisner information at 202/994-6800

WEB: www.lisner.org

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