Flamenco Festival Miami encompasses tradition and revolution

The director and star of Compañía Rocío Molina in “Bosque Ardora”
The director and star of Compañía Rocío Molina in “Bosque Ardora”

Now in its eighth year, the Flamenco Festival Miami deals South Florida dance junkies an annual fix of the highest quality goods. Whereas last spring addicts had to make do with a single hit of the divine Sara Baras, this year audiences will be able to overdose on the Spanish art form, with four dance companies dancing on five separate evenings, and two music concerts to boot. The festival, which opens Wednesday at the Adrienne Arsht Center, runs through March 13.

"This is the year that we have brought the widest palette of color that there is in flamenco today," says festival director Miguel Marín. The dance offerings range from traditional Gypsy flamenco, to highly stylized choreography for corps of impeccably-trained dancers, to contemporary performance theater that strays far afield from anything aficionados would have recognized as flamenco twenty or thirty years ago.

The music concerts include famed flamenco guitarist Vicente Amigo, who opens the festival on Wednesday. On Friday renowned Cuban jazz pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba joins Spanish singer Esperanza Fernández in a world premiere, a collaborative tribute to musical legends from their respective countries – Cuba’s Beny Moré and Spain’s Manolo Caracol.

One of the most traditional artists at the festival is Farruquito, who performs Thursday. This 33-year-old heir to a Gypsy dynasty from Seville was born to be a bailaor. His grandfather, El Farruco, was a legendary figure in flamenco dance; his mother, La Farruca, is also a dancer.

With the looks and charisma of a pop idol, Farruquito exudes sex appeal. He throws himself into movement with an abandon enabled by decades of practice. This is a master who drank in flamenco rhythms with his mother’s milk and choreographed his first show at fifteen. Farruquito will share the stage with a full cadre of musicians, but nearly all of the dancing will be up to him.

The Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía, dancing on March 9 and 10, presents an altogether different aesthetic. Whereas Farruquito emphasizes improvisation, BFA offers the meticulously executed group work that is the hallmark of today’s best Spanish dance companies. Their program Imágenes: 20 Years, celebrates five of the company’s directors over its twenty-year history. Inspired by images drawn from these choreographers’ works, the group’s new director, Rafaela Carrasco, has created a crowd pleaser that showcases the talents of this twelve-member ensemble of energetic young dancers. It’s designed to be a visually sumptuous piece, with swirling shawls, trailing skirts, and large groups that fill the stage with polished synchronicity.

The most interesting performers in this year’s festival, however, are also the most unconventional. Dancer/choreographers Rocío Molina and Manuel Liñán are both brilliant iconoclasts who are propelling this highly traditional form headlong into the future. As artists, the two are intensely curious, seemingly unfettered by convention or orthodoxy. And each draws on a deep knowledge of flamenco’s traditions.

Many flamenco choreographers push the envelope as far as the basic codes of the art form are concerned. Molina, teeth bared, simply rips it apart. Bosque Ardora, the evening-length work she will present on March 12, is provocative stuff, a trippy story ballet ripe with sexual tension between herself and two male dancers who cavort, satyr-like, through this female huntress’ forest primeval. (The title, a play on words, could mean Passionate or Burning Forest.)

"It’s a dreamlike universe," Molina says, "in which the visceral part of the animal mixes with that of man."

Bosque Ardora is trangressive not only as a flamenco piece, but in the way it challenges traditional ideas of femininity, with Molina alternating between the roles of hunted and huntress, dominated and dominatrix. Throughout the work she grapples with assumptions about gender, not so much as they relate to flamenco, but in life.

"It takes flamenco to a different dimension," Marín says of Molina’s avant-garde, conceptual approach. The former teen prodigy created Bosque over two years in which she left the comfortable confines of the studio to improvise in parks, discotheques and prisons. The result is a wild hybrid, with contemporary dance melding with flamenco footwork, expressionistic dance theater, and Japanese kabuki, while ritualistic drama alternates with bawdy slapstick. The musicians, in addition to the usual guitarist, singer and percussionists, include two trombone players. If it all sounds improbable, it is. But if anyone has the guts, theatricality and technical prowess to pull this off, it is this outrageously talented artist.

Left with the challenge of tying the festival’s disparate threads together is the captivating Compañía Manuel Liñán, which closes the festival on March 13. The troupe’s leader says his Nómada (Nomad) will take audiences on a collective journey through flamenco’s Andalusian heritage – and beyond. While he strives to be faithful to flamenco’s roots, Liñán, like Molina, embraces risk.

"My philosophy is to always take it a bit farther," he says.

Liñán stands traditional gender roles on their heads, dancing one piece in a ruffled, trailing bata de cola skirt, twirling a woman’s mantón (a fringed shawl) as if it were a toreador’s cape. It is an artistic liberty he doesn’t take simply for its shock value, but rather to reveal a more feminine side of himself—an aspect of his personality that this usually macho performer sees no reason to hide.

"I don’t think I should ever limit myself from doing what I want to do," he says.

Flamenco continues to be an intensely personal art form, where being true to oneself is an essential part of the equation. Molina calls the persecution in Bosque Ardora a trial in which the hunter eventually realizes that what she has been pursuing all along is herself. In a way, it is also a metaphor for the lifelong search for oneself that often defines great artists.

"For me," she says, "flamenco is about being authentic."

For the audience, it is the thrill of watching these virtuoso performers as they continue the hunt.

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit source of South Florida dance and performing arts coverage.

If you go:

What: Flamenco Festival Miami

When: Wednesday to March 13; all concerts at 8 p.m.

Where: Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Wednesday: Vicente Amigo, Knight Concert Hall

Thursday: Farruquito "Improvisao," Knight Concert Hall

Friday: Rubalcaba & Fernandez "Oh Vida!," Knight Concert Hall

March 9 to 10: Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía, "Imagenes: 20 Years," Ziff Ballet Opera House

March 12: Compañía Rocío Molina, "Bosque Ardora," Ziff Ballet Opera House

March 13: Compañía Manuel Liñán "Nómada," Ziff Ballet Opera House

Info: $25 to $100, 305-949-6722 or arshtcenter.org