Surely, Hugo Medrano, whose passing early this past summer was a great blow to the entire theater community and especially his extended familia — lovers of all things GALA —was smiling down Friday night from the rafters of GALA Hispanic Theatre. The 19th annual Fuego Flamenco Festival was dedicated this year to his memory and concludes this weekend with Enredo by a favorite home-grown dance troupe, Flamenco Aparicio Dance Co., led by Edwin Aparicio and Aleksey Kulikov. Judging by the shouts and extended applause for this “home team,” Aparicio and Co. handily won the People’s Choice Award this year!
If last weekend’s festival entry experimented with how far can one push the boundaries of what is flamenco and featured a star turn of visionary soloist Rafael Ramirez, then Aparicio is all about company, an ensemble’s give and take, and the evening was marked by a generosity of spirit and love-loving fun, the essence of familia.
Partners in life as in art, Aparicio and Kulikov collaborated on the conception and the direction of Enredo, premiering the work at this festival as a thematic whole. The theme of intertwining was fully integrated into every aspect of the program: in the rope that binds ensemble members in the first number, in the many images of woven fibers and entwined grasses projected on a giant screen behind the dancers, and in what first looks like a morass of cable some “techie” had forgotten to clear as it snaked around the floor of the stage but when “turned on” lit up and seemed to come to life as its own physical and spiritual entity. I took away a powerful statement about our interconnectedness — the company, this community, people throughout the world, and even people in and with nature.
The first number, titled “Enredo” like the entire program, features the ensemble emerging from the darkness, tethered together by a giant rope, and their convoluted negotiations with this rope as they pull apart and come back together. It’s a spellbinding piece.
“Pétalos” follows, a classic-styled dance where women wear floor-length slinky-tight dresses with trailing, deeply ruffled trains, which they flip and maneuver as they spin, arch, and bend then strike poses and show off the essential beauty of liquid wrist and arm movements essential especially to the feminine form of flamenco. Aparicio choreographed this piece to feature company members Cosima Amelang, Mariana Gatto Durán, and Kyoko Terada. Guitarist Ricardo Marlow both composed and accompanied the dancers.
The ensemble also can boast of two fine singers. The male Francisco Orozco “Yiyi” doubles as the percussionist, and in both roles he excels. “Yiyi,” a performer much in demand worldwide, shapes vocal sound with more nuance than many flamenco singers and shows great musicality. Amparo Heredia hails originally from Málaga and is also a world-class singer. Last year, she won the prestigious Cante de las Minas Festival in Spain. Her vocal style is rougher, more “street,” with greater pressured attack than Orozco’s, and the contrast is strikingly used as they alternate throughout the evening.
“Balancín,” a duet co-choreographed and danced between Edwin Aparicio and Norberto Chamizo Garrido, shows off the sparks that can fly in friendly “dueling” competition. Chamizo has great flair and sharp, strong upper-body movements filled with the requisite tension of the style as he circles or pushes forward with his chest or arms, while no one can match Aparicio for tight, bullet-fast zapateado (foot stomping.) At the end, the two drop the poseur attitude and go off, arms around each other, laughing. I’m loving the affection in this male duet.
The last dance in the first half of the program, “Refugio,” was choreographed and danced by Gloria del Rosario. Sadly, most of it was lost on me because of a light placed on an up-stage right diagonal. It’s the kind of technical mistake that needs to be fixed, as several sitting around me had similar difficulty.
However, del Rosario more than made up for it in Part 2 in a stunning duet with Iván Orellana that brought me to tears. Choreographed by Orellana, it seemed to tell the story of a relationship, whether about a relationship that has always been sour or has degenerated over time because of infirmities of old age. The two stiffly shuffle across the stage, as if impaired, breaking all the rules of the flamenco style. As they further interact, their movements change, and they taunt, confront, and try to leave each other. Twice Orellano tosses del Rosario over his head in a most unromantic manner, more apache than flamenco perhaps, but why not! I believe we were beholding something about aging in relationship that was heartbreaking because so truthful in its humanity.
Orellana also choreographed and danced his own “Redención.” It’s a showstopper, using technical dazzlement to show us a badass character of mythic proportions, who surely is in need of redemption. He struts, slides his hand over and over the brim of his hat before cockily setting it on his head. While playing some kind of gangster, or so it seemed to me, Orellano also drops his jacket off one shoulder provocatively, even sneaks in a tush wag and pelvic thrust or two just to tease us. He picks up and drops such “slips,” all this in a flawless three-part flamenco dance.
The last two numbers return us to the pure classical flamenco aesthetic. In “Soledades,” led by Aparicio, three dancers explore rhythmic patterns in the contemplation of the very roots of flamenco, steeped in solitude and pain. Who are we, after all? The finale brings everyone coming together “Juntos.” Now we see joy breaking through where everyone gets a quick solo, but it’s all about celebrating a love for flamenco and familia.
Viva Aparicio! Viva Hugo!
Fuego Flamenco Festival XIX – Enredo plays once more on Sunday, November 19, 2023, at 2:00 pm at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th Street NW, Washington, DC. Single tickets are $25–$48. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 202-234-7174 or visit galatheatre.org.
COVID Safety: Wearing masks is optional.
Rafael Ramírez breaks the macho mold in GALA’s Fuego Flamenco Festival XIX (review by Susan Galbraith, November 11, 2023)