Kahlil Gibran's meditations on the human condition were fiercely grounded by flamenco in A'lante's adaptation
Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, Fri., Jan. 17, 2014
Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center,
701 W. Riverside
Through Jan. 19
Running time: 1 hr., 45 min.
With Prophecies, A'lante Flamenco proved its genre as worthy for reconsidering Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet. No matter how much the author's overplayed meditations on the human condition threatened to alight in abstraction, the fierce tethers in flamenco's drama, existential expression, and rawness of invention grounded them obstinately in the now.
Artistic Director Olivia Chacón developed dances based on seven of the prophet's ruminations and framed them with depictions of the sea, over which the prophet travels. At the start of the work, the spinning of Ashi Damvar, a barefoot dancer described in the program as "a self-taught whirler," drew the audience into her meditation. As the prophet figure, she guided the narrative to "On Love," "On Prayer," and "On Religion," topics rich in opportunities to showcase the dynamics of flamenco music and dancing, performed by the troupe of five female dancers and six musicians.
Chacón's attempts at modernizing "On Talking," which began with a silly bit about a ringing cell phone, and "On Friendship," backed by a projection of a Facebook page, came abruptly and might have been unnecessary. As a genre that is highly dependent on the talents and expressions of dancers and musicians and is often improvisational, isn't flamenco self-renewing? But the recorded video appearances by flamenco artists around the world – the Facebook friends – who joined the onstage cast from their studios, bedrooms, and garages, made for a joyous "Juerga Digital," a virtual jam session. Between these brushes with technology, "On Work" went the opposite direction in time, as a trio found barefoot joy in the bounty of a wheat field and a traditional Andalucian threshing song.
In "On Self-Knowledge," Chacón's furious tientos identified her as inextricable from her role as a channel for the dance. In a deep purple, fringed dress, she offered up her delicate-featured face and thin, jutting arms in a staggering backbend before earthly, almost combustible rhythms again overtook her. Prophecies showcased the individual talents of the rest of the cast as well: Stephanie Keeton's athletic passion, the quieter depths of Kara Leal and Karen Vilches. But my eye often was drawn to Claire Spera, the supreme fluidity of her hands and arms sprung from the reservoir of her upper back, a quiet powerhouse, and the tallness of her neck remaining uncompromised by her downward glance, which held a slight furrow at the brow.
As an encore, the musicians moved to center stage, and the formidable singer Chayito Champion sang, muy triste, about corozones and the rosas that were muertes. I realized that her face held that same tension at the brow that I'd seen in Spera. It's the mark, I think, of a medium channeling this art form.