Flamenco, Past and (Very) PresentSTEPHEN HEYMAN | FEBRUARY 12, 2010, 5:30 PM
February in this city belongs increasingly to — no, not fashion — but to flamenco and all its attendant regalia: the ruffles, the clickety-clack of castanets, the oohs, the ahhs and the very tentative attempts by New Yorkers at exclaiming, “¡Olé!” A 10-day New York extravaganza kicked off last night with a gala presentation at City Center, and more flamenco performances are planned throughout the month in Vancouver, Miami and London, which should give English-speaking audiences around the world a fresh taste of this very old dance style.
Purists (or a friend who once spent a few intoxicated months in Seville, Spain) might suggest that these large-scale events run somewhat against the spirit of flamenco, which is best seen in a dusky Andalusian courtyard after about three and a half glasses of vino tinto. Those looking for a more intimate encounter should check out the festival’s ancillary programs, like “No Singing Allowed,” a photo exhibit now on view at the Aperture Foundation and the Instituto Cervantes. The biggest surprise here is how many marquee photographers — Brassaï, Cartier-Bresson, Adolphe de Meyer, Inge Morath, Man Ray, Martin Parr — have taken up flamenco as a subject over the past 150 years. The show opened on Feb. 4 with an electrifying performance by Pastora Galván, who appeared in a ridiculously long, frilly red skirt that dragged behind her like a beaver’s tail.
When it comes to flamenco vestments, just how much frill is overkill? An innovative program at the Guggenheim Museum on Wednesday night, “Dressed to Dance,” presented roughly 100 years of flamenco-inflected costumes, which were modeled by many of the festival’s headliners, including the outstanding María Pagés. There were theatrical costumes by Dalí and Picasso; a black serpentine man-skirt by Giorgio Armani that was roughly the length of a small bus; and a few pieces designed by Roger Salas, who is also a dance critic for El País. The dancers from the festival descended the Guggenheim’s spiral rotunda to a pounding blend of trance and traditional music. Some would pass over the stage and quickly model their costumes with a few flamenco steps; others, like Pagés, and the magnificent Carlos Chamorro (who also choreographed, and looks like a cross between James Spader and Martin Short), broke into a longer dance performances. One of the most striking dresses, dreamed up by the Danish designer Lone Dunewebber, boasted a collapsible hoop skirt in dark red velvet. As the very flexible Selene Muñoz danced, the skirt traced her movements, “Matrix”-like, and kept the audience spellbound. No, we weren’t in an Andalusian courtyard, but the Guggenheim made for a very diverting stand-in.