Features

"Exuberance is beauty."
--William Blake

Mind Caviar, Vol. I Summer Issue, 2000

The Passions of Flamenco
by Jamie Joy Gatto


The air is hot and still in the Quarter. It's deep July and we're in the middle of a drought, perhaps the longest we've gone without rain in the recorded history of summers in New Orleans. The Quarter bustles with action as the night falls fast, street lamps light and music seeps from corners and bars, and cars... it sneaks out from everywhere. The air is damp and heavy, pregnant with the promise of rain; you can smell it.

Patrons slowly file in to El Matador, the corner bar on Decatur and Esplanade bordering The Quarter and The Marigny, waiting for tonight's treat. The A/C is cool; the drinks are good, not cheap, but well-made with a talented hand by a lovely barmaid, so they're worth it. Saturday is Flamenco night-- the night where passions are unleashed and stories are told in the form of ageless dances and precise, intricate rhythms. And you can't beat the price, the performance is free.

As the place fills up, the dancers bustle around, calling to one another from the cramped dressing room, sipping a little Sangria to gear up for the drama of the dance. Even as they flit from stage to room, the musicians are more quiet, smoking or chatting about everything but their music. It seems as if it takes a diametrically opposed warm-up for each type of player to prepare for what is about to take place on stage. And what is about to happen will take the audience to another place. It doesn't matter whether or not you understand the dance, or the history or the music. Just watch and listen, and if you let yourself, you can become one with all the Flamenco dances ever performed.

The show begins unannounced: two ladies together dance a lively partner dance to warm up. They weave together a little tapestry, so simple, so elegant, while accompanied by John Lawrence on guitar. At first, his playing is patient, tentative and restrained, as if he is only waiting for what will eventually come. The tension has already begun.

There are three dancers this evening: two well-seasoned professionals, Lali and Laura and a younger woman, June, who is blooming with promise. Together and separately, they create rhythms with their bodies, the staccato drumming of their heels, sinewy, sensuous movements with their arms. They dance about forbidden love, unrequited passions, both joy and pain, and with every gesture those expressions ooze forth, uninhibited, all put in motion by the skilled guitar and percussion accompaniment that only true artists can perform.

Tonight we get a special treat: June is performing the farruca, the hat dance, traditionally a male dance. She wears the bolero with such pride and a sense of virility, I dare any man to match it. As she poses, we can feel the sincerity in her movements. We know exactly when she has stopped thinking and she has become the dance itself. 

Laura is fierce in her drama, she shows what it takes to be a Flamenco dancer: attitude and power combined with grace. She stamps out a duel in contest with Michael who is playing the caja, a specially designed box with which he drums out perfect beats. Laura's castanets juxtaposed with her own stomps and the rhythms of the musicians create a mighty force. They are calling the rain to us, to New Orleans.

Lali has begun the dance of caracoles, the exuberant dance of the fan. Her restraint is perfect, her execution is flawless. Now we understand that she is a goddess, that with her fan and her joy, she will wave the winds among us, bring us the rain. Outside the wind picks up, oak branches begin to bend in the wind. By the time the dance is done, the streets are wet with rain and the crowd applauds both Lali and Mother Nature. Alianza Flamenca has done it again.

Click to See a Complete Photo Gallery of Alianza Flamenca


Alianza Flamenca is:

Solangel (Lali) Calix
June Galloway
Laura Jerez

John Lawrence ~ Guitar
Michael Skinkus ~ Percussion

Performances Saturday at 7-9:30 PM El Matador, 504 Esplanade Avenue, NOLA

Solangel Calix instructs Flamenco students, beginners to advanced at
New Orleans School of Ballet, 717 Adams, St. NOLA

Alianza Flamenca is available for hire for both private and public performances.


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Alianza Flamenca Photo Copyright © 2000 Alex Gatto. All rights reserved.
"The Passions of Flamenco" Copyright © 2000 Jamie Joy Gatto. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2000 Mind Caviar. All rights reserved. Mind Caviar is a trademark of Two Blondes Productions.