Festival de Jerez 2017: When too much flamenco is never enough 

12 Mar

I write this for the many frustrated flamencos who would so love to be with me in Jerez, chatting over morning coffee in Plaza Plateros in the sunshine, queuing for a late night show, sweating through class, drinking fino in La Reja as we deconstruct the show we’ve just seen, and falling in love with flamenco all over again. The majority of you are women of all ages whose lives have been deeply touched by flamenco, but because of family, work and other responsibilities you don’t have the luxury of travel afforded to me. I feel your frustration. I hope this post brings you some small pleasure. 

Festival de Jerez turns 21 this year. That’s quite an achievement in the uncertain arts events world, and indeed, this year’s program almost had to proceed without its jewel, the Villamarta Theatre. Threatened with closure because of ongoing maintenance costs, public outcry persuaded council to find more funds to keep the theatre open. Part of the Villamarta building has been renovated to create a Festival Foundation office so there is some money there.​

Morning outside the Villamarta, listen for the sound of the flamenco class behind the blue door.

​ The subsidised in-depth printed Festival program however was axed. This is all happening at a time when Andalusian unemployment is its lowest for seven years (albeit with wages frozen at 2013 levels) and foreign tourist numbers have risen ten per cent in the first two months of the year compared with the same period last year. Still, all evidence points to a precarious future for the Festival. Only continued strong international support will buttress this important event against tough economic times.

I was in situ for the full two weeks minus the final day (I had to rendezvous with Stuart in Geneva for a family ski week). The Aussie contingent was strong this year, Jocelyn (and her nephew), Suzanne, Eva, Kathy and Sofia and I caught up with many gorgeous flamenco friends from orevious years. We enjoyed mostly sunny, clear blue sky Tshirt and sandals days with temps between 11-24 degrees celsius.

Lola Flores’ statue in Barrio San Miguel.


FLAMENCO DANCE WORKSHOPS

 

As ever the range of artists/teachers on offer was mindbogglingly good, but I was on a mission.

 

Five years ago I first tackled alegrias con bata de cola with Alicia Marquez. I struggled but enjoyed it then didn’t have an opportunity to dance with bata again. Hence I jumped at the chance to take Pilar Ogalla’s workshop in yhe Bodegas Gonzalez Byass. My day trip from Seville to Jerez for a private technique class with Pilar paid off as the conditioning I did in preparation for her seven daily 2.5 hour classes (she always went over time) made me stronger and kept me injury free.​

My walk to class in a sherry house.

​​​ 

Pilar is a good-humoured, patient teacher with a feminine style. Her choreography was supposed to be ‘basico’ level but it got trickier as we progressed and by the time we reached a series of very fast turns with skirt lifts I was praying she’d finish before I destroyed my beautiful, new bata or my classmates’.

 

With the marvellous singer Luis Vargas and guitarist Domingo Rodriguez providing accompaniment we worked through six minutes and 35 seconds: two verses, a chorus, a ‘silencio’ and and finished with a Bulerias de Cadiz. Happy with that!

 

Pilar’s husband, the wonderful human being, Andres Peña, was teaching tangos in their studio in week two so he was my automatic choice. Andres has lost none of his humour and patience. He broke down the movements carefully and then built them up. His goal was to get us moving our shoulders, hips and hands in his authentic, sincere manner so there was some unlearning people had to do to approximate his fluid, relaxed style. We danced to Tangos de Extramadura sung by Israel Lopez and played by guitarist Jose Carlos Pozo, so I have another melody to add to my repertoire! I was so happy to see Israel singing from scribbled letres, I had always assumed they somehow just knew everything by heart.

Andres and Pillar accepting their award for most popular Villamarta show in the 20166 Festival De Jerez.


Other award recipients: Manuel Liñan won the Critic’s Choice, Antonio Malena for best singer accompanying dance and Antonio Molina ‘El Chorro’ for his insightful production.

FESTIVAL SHOWS

The quality overall has been exceptionally high this year. In the first week women were especially strongly represented at the Villamarta shows, in fact I would say they were in the slight majority of dancers and singers overall. From the precision and artistry of Ballet Flamenco Andalucia (which featured the joyful Alberto Selles singing and dancing alegrias) to the living legends duo of Antonio Canales and Joaquin Grilo, to the humour, surprise and energy of Olga Pericet to Maria Pages’ return in her wonderful solo show, to the sheer brilliance of Marco Flores (below) – every show offered something special.

The heavy religiosity of Fuensanta ‘La Moneta’s’ ‘Divino Amor Humano’ preceded Patricia Guerrero’s ‘Catedral’, but where the former became a little monotonous to me, I found Patricia’s fascinating because it had a perceptible storyline plus clever use of costume and staging.

 

Juxtaposed against this was the over the top sheer entertainment of Melchora Oretega’s cabaret style Sala Paul show with Isabel Bayon (singing and dancing) and the divine David Lagos singing.

 

If pressed to choose two musicians who moved me to tears in week one they would both come from Marco Flores’ show: Mercedes Cortes and Jesus Nuñez. Mercedes stayed on stage and sang the entire show (with one quick costume change). Her singing style is completely natural and authentic, piercing straight to the heart. Jesus plays with such love for his instrument he transmits that emotion with his sound. Marco Flores’ dancing was, of course, exceptional. He showed the wide range of his talents, only off stage for one cante solo.

 

Special mention for the inventive staging of Rafaela Carrasco’s ‘Ciclo’ performance on the wettest day of the festival, a procession with the audience from the portico of the Bodegas Gozalez Byass carrying glasses of sherry into the huge, chandaliered and pillared function room where Rafaela transformed into three incarnations of Lola Flores accompanied by the singing of Carmen Liñares and Silvia Perez Cruz (the sweetest voice so far) and Pablo Suarez playing piano. A la Lola, Rafaela danced on a sherry barrel and a catwalk. A fitting tribute and worth getting wet for.

Farruquito and his company closed the week paying homage to his father (who died fifteen years ago), the singer El Moreno, in a Villamarta show based on his life story. It was very sentimental (the final scene and fin de fiesta featured Farruquito’s four-year-old son Juan El Moreno) but the dancing was strong. Gema Moneo was particularly good. I also caught her terrific show at El Guarida Del Angel (below).

 El Diario de Jerez​

 

Wardrobe malfunctions plagued the male dancers in the first week. First Marco Flores’ trouser zip self destructed (rectified by a planned costume change), then in Farruquito’s show El Barullo’s skin tight trousers split at the crotch almost immediately. In both cases ‘tightie whities’ were the underwear of choice. Unfortunately for the audience, in the latter case, neither the dancer nor anyone else on stage or in the wings seemed to noticed so El Barullo danced the remainder of the show that way. Very distracting and unnecessary as there was an opportunity to change. Yes, I am being picky but that’s my job as a paid up audience member.

 

A few days into the Festival we got news that Rocio Molina’s new show, ‘Caida Del Cielo’ (Falling from the Sky) was cancelled as Rocio had emergency surgery to remove her appendix. A lot of disappointed fans! As the Festival guarantees that people registered for the dance courses will get six Villamarta shows per week they switched Alba Heredia from Sala Compañia to the Villamarta. This was a great break for Alba but ultimately it worked against her.

 

In the second week Maria Moreno’s show at Sala Compañia was a huge success. I predict she will get a Villamarta gig next year. And guitarist Jesus Guerrero’s Sala Paul show sold out for good reason. He is a magician with his guitar. David Coria’s show ‘El Encuentro’ with Ana Morales was delightful, he is a new discovery for me.

 

Which brings me to Angel Muñoz’ Villamarta world premier of ‘Claroscuro’ (the effect of light and shade). The play of lights and smoke was effective in creating different moods, almost the entire show had a rather sombre feel to it. An exception was the playful tangos to the music of Diego Villegas on harmonica. Diego truly is a genius with wind instruments. Angel has been using electronic beats and music in his shows for a while now. This show featured electronic sound and looping by Artomatico onstage. He created lots of opportunity to showcase Angel’s amazing soniquete. But for me the musical highlight was Miguel Ortega’s solea which he sang while accompanying himself playing guitar, a clever contrast. ‘Claroscuro’ is an inventive, brave show which I found very satisfying.

 

Pastora Galvan’s show ‘Mirame’ (‘Look at Me’) was a lighthearted self parody. A bit thin on dance content for me but the musicians were outstanding, especially Jeromo Segura, dressed in a blindingly white suit and shoes. Jeromo really owned his solos, projecting brilliantly to all parts of the theatre. Wonderful to see him in his rightful place after watching him perform at Casa de la Memoria so many times. Pastor seems to be going in the direction of Middle Eastern music, certainly her final piece (‘What I am still doing’) was a barefoot belly dance as she was showered by rose petals. The girl just wants to have fun!

 

If I haven’t mentioned some Villamarta shows it is because I didn’t enjoy them. Happily there were only a couple that I had to leave before they finished (I was sitting on the end and disturbed no one as I exited, trust me).

 

My final words are for the best show of the Festival. And I can safely say that Antonio El Pipa’s closing Villamarta show will not top it. Drum roll…….. the best show 2017 was ‘Guerrero’ by Eduardo Guerrero.

 

You may remember me raving about Eduardo’s Casa de la Memoria show in Seville and the wonderful course I took with him. Well, his very first mainstage Villamarta solo show, ‘Guerrero’ (‘Warrior’), was a revelation, not only for me but for just about everyone in the theatre. I am not sure where he is going to go from here because he has set the bar impossibly high. With three gorgeous female singers and two male guitarists he crafted a clever, emotional, exciting, dramatic hour and a half, of which he was present for all but a few minutes. From the moment all the artists started walking purposefully but in a relaxed manner around the stage while the audience was still filing in I knew we were in for something different. With his height, muscularity, stamina, speed, control and flexibility there doesn’t seem to be anything he can’t do if he wants to. What was most satisfying was seeing how he incorporated the singers into the choreography. At one moment he melded into a Pieta pose with a singer supporting him only by the neck, at another he’d complete a complex step in releve on one foot and kick the other leg high behind. The singer would catch his foot and hold, and hold….

 

The ovation he received was absolutely crazy and you could see he was touched and relieved that his work had been so positively received. ¡OLE EDU!

​ My home for 2 weeks, third Festival in a row.

Antonio Chacon

La Paquera de Jerez

Stork family atop Santa Ana church

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