Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Who'd want to live below a flamenco dancer?

What I know about flamenco can be written on the back of the DVD of Carlos Saura's 'Carmen', which I've watched loads of times and which I suspect will shortly slide into my DVD player again. It's brilliant, estupendo! (Would have done the upside down exclamation mark, but have just spent half an hour trying to find one in my Linux environment).

Of course the film has a specific story to tell and there is much purpose to all the dancing. It is probably not fair to compare that dancing to last night's dancing at the concert of Pepe Justicia and his group.

Pepe Justicia is an awesome guitarist! As soon as he picked up his guitar it was clear that this was going to be a more exciting concert than the Fado concert 10 days ago. He's just brilliant - so virtuosic like you wouldn't believe; probably the best guitarist I have ever heard in Vilnius (not that I have heard that many). There are no histrionics, just straight down to business and he's playing.

But he was not alone. After his first solo another guitarist appeared on stage (it would have been nice to have had people's names somewhere), a percussionist playing a wooden box and something that looked like a blonde stool, but was clearly a percussion instrument; two young ladies, Laura and Irena, with flowers in their hair and more or less flamenco dresses, and a young man in a suit. The latter three sat at the side of the band and clapped. Rhythm is very complicated in flamenco - three people often all clap very different rhythms, which makes it lovely and complex (I learnt a bit of that in my salsa course last year - it was very challenging, eg when two parts of a group clapped different rhythms, and you would change places and rhythms with a member of the other group). They were a bit difficult to hear, but a joy to watch.

Laura got up to sing and dance - she has a wonderful voice, and that Spanish supercilious look down her nose (which maybe Spanish women need to have to keep their menfolk under control). Listening to her songs it was noticeable just how great the Arabic influence is in flamenco music. Her dancing was quite good, but her feet rather disappeared under the long dress and her hand movements were not as focused as those in 'Carmen' (which may have been performed by the equivalent of the Royal Ballet....). Also she danced away from the microphone quite a lot, and even in the first row I could only see that she was singing - I could not hear her (the percussionist took over her songs at that moment).

At the end of the first part, the young man without a name got up and strut his stuff! Jeeez, he was good! This was serious flamenco-ing - his foot work was awesome! It was a long performance of several bits, and at the end his shirt had almost melted. His second performance in the second part (with a new shirt) was similar; strong, powerful stuff! It was nice that he was wearing just a suit and no fancy dress (I wondered what he might have looked like in jeans). And yet....his overall performance, awesome though it was, did not seem to hang together. There were tremendously fast, virtuosic bits, joined by moments of strutting about clapping his hands (and no doubt catching his breath), but it did not seem to tell a story or come to a peak.

Irena, who might be Pepe's daughter (he played a piece he had written for her when she was 2), apparently was in her first ever performance, so Pepe/Papa told us. In the first half she clapped, but then in the second half she also got up to a dance, in a skirt that somehow looked a bit cheap and not all that glamorous. She got a huge wave of sympathy from the audience - everyone felt for her! I'm not sure it helps a person if the whole audience knows its her first performance - I thought her first dances were smitten by nerves. Her hands were not that great - but when she started a piece where she produced the only percussive noise, that was really impressive. She needs to cultivate that supercilious, arrogant look, though - she was simply too nice! The applause she got was awesome!

There was only one irritation in the concert - the photographers who kept huddling in front of the stage, and rushing here, there and everywhere, with their huge, long lenses, and, in the case of the girls, their rather fat backs and behinds, complete with a good view of the cleft, as they pointed their long protusions at the band - all evening! Was that really necessary?