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Rocío Molina documentary explores flamenco icon’s creative process

Dancer Rocío Molina in the film, ‘Impulso.’
Dancer Rocío Molina in the film, ‘Impulso.’ KimStim Films

Dancer Rocío Molina is a rabble-rouser, a rebel and a revolutionary who has been messing with the heads of flamenco purists for many of her 34 years.

Filmmaker Emilio Belmonte’s “Impulso” takes us through the creative process of this “enfant terrible” of the Spanish dance world as she choreographs “Caída del Cielo “ for the Chaillot National Theater in Paris. Like most artists who don’t do as they are told — think Martha Graham, Jackson Pollock, Nina Simone — Molina has long faced headwinds from traditionalists.

Some disapprove of how she mixes flamenco with contemporary dance, hip-hop, hard rock or even Japanese Kabuki. It’s precisely this restless curiosity that Impulso seeks to capture. Belmonte says in an interview, “What I admire about Rocío is her audacity. I want to film this audacity and the mystery that surrounds her.”

Belmonte’s film allows the creative journey to unfold slowly, shuttling back and forth between clips of concerts, rehearsals and down time. Many of the dance segments are from the improvisational performances (also called “Impulso”) that Molina has been giving in some unlikely venues over the last few years — in galleries, on a boules court, at the port in Marseilles. These offer a succinct view of the vast range of styles she has explored from her base as a flamenco dancer.

The film also does a terrific job of capturing the relationships forged between Molina and her group of musicians as they improvise, rehearse and just hang out. Molina herself is shown as much as a musician as a dancer, hammering out tremendously complex footwork patterns that complement the music not just rhythmically, but even melodically (all of the music was recorded live and sound engineer Javier Álvarez’s work is superb).

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Dancer Rocío Molina has long faced headwinds from traditionalists. KimStim Films

Guitarist Eduardo Trassierra, singer José Angel Carmona and percussionists José Manuel Ramos “Oruco” and Pablo Martín Jones are a charming crew, quick to laugh, and all wildly talented. Whether you are marveling at the incredibly intricate rhythms they produce or laughing at their self-deprecating Spanish humor, theirs is a joyful presence.

Another contemporary Spanish filmmaker, Carlos Saura, was so seduced by flamenco’s allure that he could not stop making movies about it — half a dozen to date. What Belmonte achieves in Impulso is different than the polished, painterly perfection Saura was often after. Here, it seems as if the director and crew have so fully embedded in the lives of Molina and her fellow performers that these drop all pretense and artifice. The artists are illuminated in small, unguarded moments that are delightfully paradoxical, such as when Molina skips down the hallway backstage to make her entrance the night of her debut in Paris: a world-renowned diva who skips like a child.

The performers’ humanity is beautifully captured when Molina invites Antonia Santiago Amador, “La Chana,” an elderly flamenca who had stopped performing, to dance with her in Seville’s Bienal. La Chana, 71, can hardly stand up. Molina and her men treat her like the star she once was, sustaining her with great tenderness for her entrances and exits. And the moments when the older dancer performs with Molina, both of them never rising from their chairs, are some of the most powerful and emotionally striking of the film.

In another stand-out sequence, Molina rehearses a segment of “Caída del Cielo.” Belmonte shoots from directly above the stage to capture Molina, with transparent plastic wrap taped around her for a skirt, as she twists and writhes in paint on the floor, tracing with her movements, the skirt, her hair a giant abstract work that looks as if it were written in menstrual blood. Molina says of the piece, “It was born from my ovaries.”

It is the ephemeral nature of dance that the art of an iconoclastic performer like Molina seldom outlives the artist. Belmonte’s film has documented for the ages both her work and something of her unconventional, highly intuitive creative process. It’s a plus that he also manages to give us quite a bit of the young woman within the artist.

If you go

  • What: ‘Impulso’ (87 min., unrated)

  • Where: Coral Gables Art Cinema, 260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables

  • When: Friday 8:30; Saturday 4:30, 6:30, 8:30; Sunday 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, Monday 6:00, 8:00; (gablescinema.com)

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