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July 30, 2010 / HJD

Searching, flying and flamenco: Rafaela Carrasco

The nouveau flamenco Company Rafael Carrasco will open the stage for two nights in a row this September for New York City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival — 10 nights for 10 bucks each! Carrasco is a prolific choreographer and dancer with an appetite for experimentation. An excerpt from an interview in 2004:

I’m the type that flies, I’m the type that doesn’t conform; I get bored right away with what I do… It’s good, but it’s very screwy at times because you never really live in the present; you’re always in the future. It’s a need and when it’s a need it’s fantastic because it comes out of a sincere, honest place. It doesn’t come from pretension or from wishing to search for something; it comes out natural.

Check out the rhythmic duet between Carrasco and Madrid percussionist, Nacho Arimany.

More thoughtful words from Carrasco, on honesty and the universal skirmish between an artform’s originators versus its innovators:

I’m tired of sensationalist shows seeking easy applause; I’m against selling oneself out. I need to be told honesty even if it’s very scant. I don’t ask for a big deal technically; I don’t care if you give me three turns or one or none. What I want is for you to tell me truth and honesty.

It’s also true that there’s a great generation gap between our maestros and us… It’s rather harsh for them to see what we do because they think that flamenco is slipping away, but I don’t think so; I think it’s a time of searching when people are coming out with the freedom to choose to be very flamenco or to bring out another kind of restlessness… You can’t ask the same thing of everyone; they don’t have to have that need, but you have to allow those who do to search.

July 19, 2010 / HJD

Defining Duende

It’s like having panache, style, grace and intensity combined. It’s the ability to move an audience. The moment when a flamenco dancer’s punctuating rhythm, or a singer’s lilting, haunting cadence sends shivers down the spine — that’s how I describe duende.

Although purists of the form will say it eludes words or definitions, I like these interpretations of duende:

Duende is a power and not a behavior, it is a struggle and not a concept. I have heard an old master guitarist say, ‘Duende is not in the throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet’. Which means it is not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood; of ancient culture; of creative action.”

– Federico Garcia Lorca

As guitar-strumming Australian named Sal on his Soapbox blog wrote:

It will reach inside the heart and sprinkle magic seeds of emotional excitement, which transfixes the attention and captures the imagination. This may result in a heady rush of hedonistic fulfillment that will cause you to spontaneously shout “Ole!”

July 18, 2010 / HJD

Gongs and flamenco do mix: Andrés Marín

Name change to Gong Blog?

Some of you may have wondered this if you read my last post: What on earth do gamelan gongs have to do with flamenco? If you would have asked me a few days ago, I might have replied, “Um, not sure. They’re both percussive?”  Shrug and change of subject would have been probable, too.

That is, until yesterday. I came across this video of flamenco bailaor (male dancer) and choreographer, Andrés Marín in his work called El cielo de tu boca — translating into heaven in your mouth. It so happens that this multimedia performance features non-traditional musical instruments like bells and… you guessed it, gongs!

Cielo en tu boca was performed in the 15th Flamenco Biennial of Seville in 2008, and considered the most experimental of the 54 performances. Although Marín was born in Seville, Spain to a family of traditional flamenco artists, he is considered one of the leading avant-gardists of the genre.

In a Spanish daily El País article, “Flamenco contaminado,” Marín said this:

Flamenco doesn’t have limits. I will go to the limits of my techniques, I’m not afraid, the rigid structures have to be broken or we will make it an immobile art… I’m not in favor of preserving the aesthetic of the past. Flamenco isn’t folklore, it’s an individual art, anarchic, that moves and changes.

[“El flamenco no tiene límites. Voy a ir hasta donde me permita mi técnica, no tengo miedo, hay que quebrantar las estructuras rígidas o lo convertiremos en un arte inmóvil… No soy partidario de guardar la estética de antes. El flamenco no es folclor, es un arte individual, anárquico, que se mueve y cambia.]

With sounding bells — and gongs– Marín takes tradition and rings in a phase of its evolution.

July 12, 2010 / HJD

Going gaga for gongs: Song of the Bird King + more

I want to highlight music that we don’t hear enough of in the West, and an issue near and dear to me.

Check out the audio interview of jazz drummer and gong player, Susie Ibarra — available on Lonnie Isabel’s Reporter Notebook blog here. Joined with composer/percussionist husband Roberto Rodriguez, Ibarra is making a documentary about the music of indigenous tribes in the Philippines. The project is called Song of the Bird King and links two urgent issues: the degradation of the environment, and how those effects endanger not only plant and animal species, but also jeopardize the survival of peoples and cultures.

I hail from a tribe of indigenous gong-players in that part of the world, or close by, in neighboring Vietnam. It’s easy to see that brass gongs were a commodity throughout Southeast Asia, because they’re ubiquitous from Java, to the Philippines, to the mountainous interior of Vietnam — the land of my mother’s tribe. Similar to the plight of the groups in Song of the Bird King, Vietnam indigenous groups face problems about land rights, health risks from the new bauxite mine, and  deforestation. Indeed, efforts to preserve ethnic minority culture seem like an afterthought.

For this reason, we need the works like Song of the Bird King, artists like Susie Ibarra — and a serious wake-up call and rearranging of our priorities, in my opinion, thank you very much.


  • You can give a listen to Dialects, Susie Ibarra’s album of electric kulintang, described as “Filipino trip-hop.”
  • Here’s a vid of Vietnam’s ethnic minority Gong Culture. Check out mom’s tribe at 1:32 — considered the dancers and singers of the Central Highlands. Must have something to do with my thing for polyrhythms…
  • If you’re going gaga for more gongs, click here for a photo slideshow that I produced on the amazing GAMELATRON, a robot that plays like an Indonesian gamelan orchestra, and the guy who fiddles with the remote control, Zemi 17.
July 4, 2010 / HJD

Flamenco in photography: Mil Besos

Afanador: En ellas, vi todo lo que es mujer/ In them, I saw everything that is feminine.

I want this photo engulfing an entire wall somewhere prominent in my living quarters. I. Love. It.

This is one of 62 black and white portraits of female flamenco dancers, in Mil Besos, a published collection by fashion photographer Ruven Afanador. Mil besos means a thousand kisses.

Growing up, I was a tom-boy of sorts, and was (still am) a self-declared feminist. I think I’m drawn to flamenco because it’s where I experiment with femininity in a form that I can relate to. Dancers, shamans, brujas — they are channeling something ferocious, powerful and very female.

In a similar vein, Colombian-born Afanador said that the female flamenco dancer is femininity to the extreme.

The woman in flamenco lives her life with all her force. She is a woman who, in one moment, can be totally destroyed and crying because something happened to her in her life, and in the next moment, she is the opposite.

A Youtube montage of Mil Besos for your listening and viewing pleasure.

July 2, 2010 / HJD

Flamenco flicks I love: Latcho Drom

I had to watch this for my freshman Spanish class. Frankly, my 18 year-old brain didn’t get it at the time. It weaves through landscapes, peoples and cultures, tracing the evolution of Sephardic song. There’s not much of a plot. Instead, the arresting visuals and music bewilder the senses.

By Tony Gatlif, it left an impression that I never could shake. Years later, I searched on Youtube for this curious little film with the hard-to-remember name until I found it again. And that’s what hijacked my system like a full-blown virus. I became obsessed. I had to dance flamenco. I blame Latcho Drom.

June 29, 2010 / HJD

Flamenco links in Buenos Aires

Luna del Olivar — a straight-forward, low-frills but attractive website linking to classes, instructors, events, and Andalusian recipes. Great archive of interviews with all types of artists related to flamenco. Seems to emphasize flamenco puro, or pure flamenco rooted strongly to Spain. In Spanish.

Buenos Aires Flamenco — flashy with music, video, links and info dedicated to flamenco culture in Buenos Aires, emphasizing its current incarnations as much as its Spanish history. Seems new, still lacking content but promising much to deliver, including English and Japanese translations. At this stage of the game, Spanish only.

Fundacion Miguel de Molina — a beautiful website dedicated to legendary Spanish performer Miguel de Molina, the fashion icon and enigma, who was exiled to Buenos Aires during the first years of Franco’s regime. His crime: being gay.

Three’s a charm, and a mere scratch on the surface. More will come.

June 29, 2010 / HJD

Post-graditis, and learning Flamenco in the Tango Capital

Could post-graditis incite bank robberies?

Post-graditis is a state of anxiety where the afflicted may do seemingly irrational things like take a job that has nothing to do with their field of study, return to the old, comfy job pre-grad school– or flee to another country. As someone afflicted with this sickness, I can say I seriously contemplated all three. And then– not entirely unlike the notorious bank robbers Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid who followed fables of gold, or William S. Burroughs, a beatnik fixing for enlightenment in the form of hallucinogenic plants— to South America I fled.

Shamans and Burroughs agree: yage does cure post-graditis

I returned to Argentina, where I was an exchange student when I was 16, and have visited three times since –the land of mate-drinkers, beef-eaters, Evita Peron-admirers, and where Che is not only a revolutionary hero to many, but also a word that’s in between an interjection, a verbal pause, and a term of (pestering) endearment.

In Buenos Aires, where tango is king, I’m studying flamenco. What can I say? I tend to do things a little backwards. Spain is where I should be, or even the Big Apple according to one flamenco teacher, because Buenos Aires is past its heyday for flamenco.

No matter for me. At my level, of three years of not-so-consistent training, Buenos Aires gives me plenty of banging for my post-graditis bucks, a lot of stomping for little silver. And now, I’m registering students and answering the door in exchange for unlimited flamenco and yoga lessons. In other words, todo bien.

June 24, 2010 / HJD

Juan del Gastor offering flamenco guitar and singing lessons. Dance, too!

Juan del Gastor is a musician of legendary Gypsy flamenco lineage. His uncle was Diego del Gastor, his brother Paco del Gastor and he has shared the stage with Fernanda de Utrera, Juan Talega and Miguel Funi.

For only a few days more in NYC, Juan del Gastor is teaching flamenco guitar lessons and singing in festive style (cante festero) and haunting Gypsy-styled song (cante jondo). Luci Rozario, accomplished dancer and wife, will be teaching flamenco dance.

More information available in the links below:

June 19 – 27 Juan del Gastor in NYC

June 23, 2010 / HJD

if you can walk, you can dance

danceabout is a blog about my journey to make dance a consistent part of my life. Of what little I claim to know, two things are sure: I love to write and I love to dance. This is an attempt to marry the two, and to evolve both a steady writing and dance practice.

This blog is about being “too old” to dance professionally — so they say– but not giving a hoot and trying anyway. Prima ballerinas reach the height of the career at 25. I’m almost 30, haven’t donned toe-shoes in oh, 15 years — and I don’t plan on it either.

But, heels with claves (nails in Spanish) — that’s another story.

Mis falda y zapatos. My skirt and shoes.

This blog is about loving dance in its many forms, incarnations and dance as a discussion. It’s a place for reviews on performances, classes and instructors. And where to expect musing on topics tangential to dance like health, music, movement, physicality, the mind and body connection. Expect links galore.

What does danceabout mean?

A walkabout is a spiritual journey that serves as a rite-of-passage from adolescence to adulthood in Aboriginal culture. danceabout is meant to document a journey. If I told you that it has nothing to do with crossing my own thresholds, or feeding my spirit, I’d be lying.