Review: Solero Flamenco's “A Journey Through Spain”

From Andalusia to Austin, flamenco emanates expressive energy

Against floor-to-ceiling red velvet curtains, on a candle-filled stage, a mustached man beats a box drum between his legs, swaying to the rhythms. Next to him, another man embraces his guitar, eyes closed, as if entranced by the music.

A dark-haired woman sings with dramatic crescendos of joy, love, and sorrow, and two women in brightly colored skirts spin sensuously, adding dips and kicks and jumps. Welcome to Andalusia!

Solero Flamenco’s wildly entertaining and immersive “A Journey Through Spain” emanates an infectious energy throughout the entire 60-minute performance. Before the dance and music, there was a brief introduction to Flamenco’s obscure roots in southern Spain, likely a blend of influences from North African, Roma, and Sephardic Jewish cultures. The show’s storyteller and vocalist, Irma La Paloma, called flamenco a “living art,” a rich blend of cultures that continues to adapt, picking up influences from Caribbean, European, and Latin American artists, people persecuted by the Spanish Catholic majority who could communicate their joys, passions, and sorrows through the universal languages of dance and music. “Flamenco is about the need to express rather than entertain,” La Paloma said.

From the beginning, Solero Flamenco established an interactive relationship with the audience, encouraging us to shout, “Olé!” whenever we felt enticed. As they danced, the artists playfully gestured toward the audience, as if to invite us on stage. La Paloma translated just enough of her Spanish phrases to allow solely-English-speaking audience members to understand what was happening, while treating the Spanish speakers to a few exclusive jokes – don’t mix up “cajón” and “cojones” or you might have trouble.

But much of the show’s warmth emanated from the group’s familial interactions with each other. The dancers clapped and shouted words of encouragement in Spanish during the solo dances. Even when the focus was on one performer, the whole group swayed and tapped along, seemingly as moved by the music as the soloist. The effect was infectious: To be present was to take part in their intimacy, and I often found my body swaying along too. The two dancers, Andrea González and Solangel Lali Calix, made expressive use of their limbs from fingertips to toes. Each dancer also injected her own personality into her performance. Calix moved with lightness, her hands and arms moving with easy sensuality, yet she also proved her fierceness and rigor whenever she stamped her feet. González was sharp yet graceful, jumping, kicking, and sometimes bending so deeply I thought she’d fall over before swiftly catching herself. She used her clothing as an extension of her movement, swirling and twisting her skirt with every turn and using her floral, embroidered shawl with both the confident flourishes of a matador and the alluring flirtation of a temptress.

And then there was the music. La Paloma sang with drama and passion, trilling her voice in a way that signaled flamenco’s Arab influences but also making the love and loss of which she sang resonate deep in the soul. She demonstrated mastery in her ability to rapidly change tone – flashy and assertive in one moment, somber and melancholy in the next. She knew when to use her volume for power but also when silent pauses enhanced the drama.

Upon first appearances, guitarist Jeremías García and drummer Andrés Felix seemed stoic compared to the bold, outgoing dancers and singer, but they too pulled me in with their subtler passion. García strummed curled over his guitar, making the audience feel the preciousness of each note. Felix, too, moved with full-body expressions. Each drumbeat revealed a full articulation of his hand, from fingertips to palms, the energy moving up into his shoulders and his feet, embodying the rhythms.

Solero Flamenco’s performance not only effectively transported me out of Austin to Andalusia, but also had me itching to get onstage and join the party. I suspected the warm energy flickering in the room didn’t solely emanate from the candles.

Solero Flamenco’s “A Journey Through Spain” Presented by Candlelight Concerts by Fever

AFS Cinema, 6259 Middle Fiskville
June 29 & July 13

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