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

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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