Pure Emotion

Omayra Amaya, presented by Flamenco Arts Festival. At the Lobero Theatre, Saturday, September 23.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Miami-based flamenco artist Omayra Amaya may be a direct descendant of the legendary flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya, but her work is the product of modern times and blended cultures. Fittingly, the program for Saturday’s show included an epigraph from a French writer, Albert Camus, warning us against “eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.” These words set the stage for a show more uniformly robust than what was delivered, yet Camus’s words spoke to the emphasis Amaya places on the present — this life, and not one that’s already been lived. This was not traditional, puro flamenco — Amaya’s American modern dance training was evident from the moment the curtain rose to reveal her kneeling in a simple sheath dress and bare feet. Choreographically, the hunched shoulders, inward rotations, and deep contractions of the opening serrana were far from conventional. She danced the alegrias, titled “The Illusion of Individuality,” not in a bright and flouncy dress but in an elegant floor-length black skirt, skin-tight dress shirt, and red neck scarf. For a dance whose name means “joys,” this was an ambiguous piece — dark and somber — but in true flamenco custom it pulsed with feeling. Brow knit, lips moving as if in silent incantations, Amaya whipped and cut through space with stunning severity. It wasn’t pretty, but it was proud.

In a traditional flamenco show, everyone’s a critic, and the emotional barometer of a given performance is easy to read. The Lobero’s proscenium stage was only a larger, more convenient alternative to a tavern or private home, and the connection between musicians, dancers, and viewers was tangible. Musicians muttered to one another as they played and cried out in encouragement to the dancers, while audience members occasionally called out “¡Olé!” in appreciation. When guitarist Roberto Castellón laid down a luscious finger-picked melody to open the “Solea por Bulerias,” the crowd drew in its collective breath. And, as the final number drew to a close in a whirl of ecstatic, abandoned dancing, the audience joined the musicians in rhythmic claps and throaty hollers. In this sense, Amaya’s intention as a flamenco artist is fully in keeping with flamenco custom. Much modern art abstracts human emotion, distancing its audience from the artist’s immediate, emotional experience. In flamenco, whether it is nuevo or puro, emotion is the very subject of the work. “I think modern dance enhances flamenco,” Amaya told me over the telephone the morning after the show. “Times are changing, and the art is growing, moving, and evolving. My movements may not be traditional, but when I dance, what I feel is flamenco.”

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