Though their art form evolved out of improvisation and multiple cultures, flamenco artists and aficionados remain obsessed by issues of old vs. new, purity vs. inclusion. Should flamenco adhere to tradition to maintain its integrity and distinctiveness, or should it change with the times and draw inspiration from other genres? And if it does, will it still be flamenco?
Two of Spain’s most acclaimed advocates of evolving flamenco bring their troupe to Miami this weekend. Carlos Rodriguez, Angel Rojas and their Nuevo Ballet Español perform Cambio de Tercio, an evening-length piece built around the idea of transformation, at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium Friday and Saturday in an ambitious start to Miami Dade College’s MDC Live Arts series.
Rodriguez and his partner launched the troupe in 1995 out of a desire to incorporate the kinds of dance in which they’d trained and a sense of the world around them.
“We were dancers of the new generation who had been formed by the disciplines we’d studied. We knew contemporary dance, classical dance, traditional Spanish dance, flamenco,” Rodriguez says in an interview from Salvador, Bahia, where the troupe was finishing a Brazilian tour.
“We needed to say something more with all the languages and knowledge that we loved. So we created Ballet Español for a new generation like ourselves … and this evolved until we discovered a very powerful, personal language that unites all these disciplines.”
The award-winning company, which has toured Europe, Latin America, Asia and the United States, last appeared in South Florida in 2005. Rojas and Rodriguez have also choreographed and performed for the National Ballet of Spain, among other troupes.
“They have a very strong reputation in Spain. … There are very few companies that can compete with them in terms of mastery of the form,” says Kathryn Garcia, director of MDC Live Arts, who lived in Spain in the early 2000s. “When I watched [ Cambio de Tercio] it was the dancing that attracted me. Rojas and Rodriguez are the stars, but the dancing across the board is at a very high level.”
The piece was inspired by the men’s desire to go back to their flamenco roots, but they’ve also used the piece to explore the process of dancing and the evolution of an art. Cambio de Tercio is a bullfighting term that means change of direction, and the piece looks to the past and the future.
“With Cambio de Tercio we decided to return to the tradition, but with our language,” Rodriguez says. “We created this show to talk about the transformation of the dancer, the artist onstage, of how a contemporary dancer is transformed into a traditional dancer ... to make the audience understand the evolution that flamenco has undergone in recent times.”
They invited choreographers Rocío Molina, Rafael Campallo and Manuel Liñán, who also push the traditional boundaries of flamenco, to create sections of Tercio. The show includes four female dancers and six musicians who play melodic violin and droning Australian didgeridoo as well as traditional guitar, while the singers add rap to the rhythms of percussion and clapping.
Vicente Soler’s costumes incorporate shorter skirts, dresses cut to show the bras underneath and exaggerate traditional elements such as polka dots. The staging allows the audience to see the dancers changing costumes and rushing into place for their entrances.
The idea, says Rodriguez, was to show the process and changes the dancers undergo during the performance, to pull the glossy surface away from the show.
“We have presented lots of shows where people asked if they could watch from backstage,” Rodriguez says. “So we got the idea of showing all that to the audience, the dancers running to change clothes, the technicians changing places. We were interested in showing that, because people are used to seeing everything pretty and perfect and finished.”
The piece starts with traditional dances and progresses to experimental sections, a metaphor for the transformation of flamenco.
“Flamenco continues to combine and transform, and this also happens in the show,” Rodriguez says. “These days you feel that the generation of artists that are living in this era, we see and feel things that are very new and different. … Even more traditional people have something of a mix, because it’s impossible to do otherwise — the situation is fluid, and it makes us more modern.”