Festival de Jerez Week Two: Angel and Olga ‘Shack attack attack!’

6 Mar

Someone in the Spanish sanitary ware industry has a wicked sense of humour. The toilet model used in our hotel is called Bellavista (beautiful view). I had reason to become well acquainted with it this week as I knelt by the pedestal throwing up into it at 2am. The toxins must have been in the Salmorejo, a cold soup based on pureed tomato, I ate for dinner in a restaurant off Plaza Arenal. Once I got rid of it and slept some more I was fine but no tomatoes for me for a while…..

Apart from that episode the second Festival week is powering along. We spent my one day off on Saturday cycling the 28k to and from Puerto Santa Maria along a dirt track that runs beside the highway for a large part of the journey. A local company rents new mountain bikes for sherry and wine tours around town but we wanted to get away from traffic so Rodrigo suggested this trip for us and supplied printouts of satellite maps. In theory it was a great idea but in practice rather disappointing as there is so much rubbish beside highways and littering paths and of course the ubiquitous dog shit. The Spanish seem to have the same mindset as we witnessed in Japan, i.e. extremely tidy in their own property but nonchalently trashing public space.

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The outbound trip was mostly uphill into the wind so we rewarded ourselves with a long lunch at Little Italy before tackling the return. A serendipitous find, it’s a true family style Italian restaurant with great food and service.

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Two great sherry lovers.

On Sunday the second cycle of dance workshops began and I was unlucky with the timing as I have Angel Muñoz for cantiñas from 1-3:20pm and Olga Pericet for tientos-tangos from 4-6:20pm. Interestingly both artists were born and did their early training in Cordoba.

No more relaxed picnic lunches in the sunshine on our hotel roof terrace and siestas between classes this week. I walk the half a kilometre from Peña Tio Jose de Paula to Antonio del Pipa’s studio munching crackers, nuts and dried fruit and drinking water to replenish my energy stores for the next session. Shoes became a problem as they are soaking wet, a scenario sure to generate blisters. The ones I brought from Australia (purchased here at Tamara two years ago) are pretty trashed anyway so I bought exactly the same in a different colour and half a size bigger to accommodate the swelling and now have happier feet starting each class in dry shoes. I say happier but to be honest I nearly called a taxi to take me back to the hotel on Sunday evening after Olga’s first class, my feet were like raw stumps.

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Room with a view.

Angel is a beautiful dancer and inspirational choreography but he doesn’t always control his energy in a class setting. The first class was chaotic with him ricocheting around the studio demonstrating at high intensity for different groups while the rest of us continued the footwork drill at high speed or whatever the step was. As I’ve been in his class before I know it’s silly and counter-productive to try to match his intensity for a whole class, but newcomers felt they had to try and ended up shattered. It was mid-week before he settled down and introduced better pacing and included reviews of the full choreography before launching into the dance at full speed with the musicians.

Olga on the other hand has been a revelation. Well shy of five feet tall she must shop in the children’s clothing section of stores. She is the last Russian Doll inside the layers of Russian Dolls. Her hair is her signature, reaching down to her waist, she uses it as an extension of her body when she performs tangos. On stage she is a ‘take no prisoners’ commanding presence, but I’ve passed her on the street here and nearly missed spotting her she looks so nondescript in her trakky daks. I first saw her dance at a tablao in Barcelona in 2011 and thought she was exciting, an opinion confirmed when I saw her Villamarta show the next year. At this Festival de Jerez her performance has been one of my favourites. She takes risks few female flamenco dancers of standing dare to take. She has the ability to dance with abandon, right on the edge, but never faltering. I was completely intimidated to enter her class thinking she might be too tough. How wrong I was. She is a consummate teacher and I understand now why so many artists want to collaborate with her.

Her style of teaching is very considered. We start with a footwork drills with arms to be used in the choreography. She sounds it out phonetically and sings the melody so we can hear how it fits in. No surprises there, it’s pretty standard but Olga is a stickler for clean soniquete (sound) and we sound damn good. ‘Shack attack attack’ is her favourite sound.

We’ve been working on one sequence since day one and yesterday, day four, it was introduced into the dance. She starts a new step sequence each day broken down and repeated very slowly before upping the tempo and on subsequent days she checks we still have it. If it needs cleaning again she goes back and we fix it. There is no judgement, just a calm, ‘No drama’ (she actually said that in English and with a smile) and away we go again. The pieces are fitted with the music she sings and we are not jumping all over the place as many teachers do. She rotates lines and watches everyone but rarely does individual corrections, she will show the entire group if something is amiss.

In our ten minute water break she quietly choreographs the next sequence with the musicians.

Her brief falsetta (lyrical guitar solo) choreography that starts the dance is so unexpected and sweet I get quite emotional just thinking about it.

I’m astonished at how much we have accomplished and how technically hard it is, much of it contra tiempo. And it’s not just the higher level dancers who are getting it, there is no one standing arround shaking their heads. Olga is the real deal. I wish I could put her in my pocket and take her to Australia!

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Opps, forgot a couple of snaps. Literally ran into four young shepherds and their flock.

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I wonder if he and they know he’s different and moreover whether anyone cares?

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