Flamenco’s Traditions Continue to Linger in ‘Cinco Por Cinco’

With a new program of innovative and edgy repertoire, Rebeca Tomas, brings her A Palo Seco Flamenco Company back to Theatre 80 Saint Marks from May 17 to 19, presenting a new production, “Cinco Por Cinco.” Tomas, a fierce and feminine NY-based Flamenco artist, will direct her company of five dancers, two singers and three musicians in a show that promises to be true to her vision of upholding Flamenco’s traditions while also pushing its boundaries and giving it a distinctive New York City feel.

The evening will feature the premier of two new choreographies. “Cinco por Cinco,” the production’s namesake, will feature the cast of five female dancers in a rhythmic call-and-response, each using one of five percussive elements within Flamenco: Zapateo (Footwork), Palmas (Rhythmic Hand-Clapping), El Abanico (the Spanish Fan), Castanuelas (Castanets), and el Baston (the Percussive Cane). The second piece, “La Farruca,” which is a typically masculine-style of Flamenco dance, will be set as a duet for two females, clad in high-wasted pants and bolero jackets. The piece will capitalize on the linear nature of this dance style with its heel-turns and musically intricate footwork. Musical accompaniment will include guitar, violin, and a female vocalist who plays an integral role in the choreography.

A Palo Seco Flamenco Company, led by Rebeca Tomas, at the Multicultural Arts Center in E. Cambridge, MA. Front Left to Right: Sol la Argentinita, Mraina Elana, Rebeca Tomas (dancers). Back Left to Right: Barbara Martinez (singer), Maria Toro (flautist), Pedro Cortes (guitarist), Jose Moreno (percussionist). Photo by YiLin.

More traditional offerings will include a return of Tomas’ “El Martinete,” rearranged for five dancers from its original form as a trio. Its choreography alternates between canonized movements and sleek synchronicity, with female dancers taking on the strength and poise of the male persona. Often referred to as “cante jondo” (deep song), the Martinete is performed “a palo seco,” with stark vocals conveying the raw essence of the art form. The production will also feature conventional solos, including a Tientos-Tangos and an Alegrias de Cordoba, a more soulful version of the typically bright Alegrias de Cadiz, performed with a Bata de Cola (long train dress) and a Manton de Manila (Manila shawl).

Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.

Petite yet strong, Tomas is only 5′ 1″ but appears much larger onstage. . The Kansas City Metropolis called her “a postcard image of the feminine Flamenco dancer.” Her performance style is sharp, graceful and clean. “Being small, I have a low center of gravity,” she confides. This might be why she can tightly execute a wide variety of turns, from repetitive “heel” turns and pirouettes to the most famous of the female Flamenco turns, the vuelta quebrada, in which Tomas arches her back so completely that she never takes her eyes off the audience. She has also been praised for the musicality of her footwork, which displays an unusual precision of rhythm.

After years of freelancing as a solo dancer and company performer with such companies as Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana and Noche Flamenca, Tomas began to create her own work in 2010. That year, her first production as artistic director and choreographer, “A Palo Seco,” won her credit as both a performer and experimenter. Presented at Theater 80, it combined traditional Flamenco with such nontraditional touches as Tomas playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” at the piano and dancing a modern piece to music by Regina Spektor. Jack Anderson (New York Theatre Wire) praised Tomas for both her innovativeness and her strength in traditional forms, writing “Tomas is seeking to develop flamenco in new ways…Experimental new works are welcome in every dance form; otherwise, that form stagnates. Tomas and her company know their flamenco, yet they’re willing to play with its conventions.” Critic Eva Yaa Asantawaa insisted to readers of her blog, “InfiniteBody,” that they see the performance, deeming it a major debut and calling Tomas a “well-crafted explosive device.” Lindsay Miller wrote in TheaterOnline.com, “The energy of the performers in this showcase of flamenco dancing and music was infectious – at times, the sold-out crowd of 200 could not help but clap along and give encouraging shouts of ‘Ole!'” The evening was summarized as “truly a feast for the eyes and the ears.”

Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.

That work was followed in 2011 with “A Palo Seco: Rasgos Flamencos,” also at Theater 80. The New York Times (Gia Kourlas) wrote, “When she swept onto the stage for her alegrias solo… Ms. Tomas was like a burst of springtime. Wearing a flowing dress in pinks and purples and flicking her long ruffled train like a mermaid’s tail, Ms. Tomas contrasted her winsome spirit with a more serious display of prickling footwork that rooted her into the floor with an earthy power.” The review commended her ingenuity of brandishing a Spanish fan “like a butterfly knife,” her choreographic exactitude in El Martinete, and the company’s “excellent musicians, led by Pedro Cortes.” Megin Jimenez wrote in NYtheatre.com, “The artists in ‘A Palo Seco: Rasgos Flamencos’ go far beyond showcasing their great musical and dance talent-they offer the experience of being transported by something deep and powerful stirring inside. It’s a level of expression that can’t be faked, and that no amount of technical perfection could replace. Melancholy, pride, and raw passion-expression we’ve become unaccustomed to seeing offered without apology-burst out in wailing song, heart-racing rhythm, and impossibly fast footwork. It’s a performance that requires fearlessness, the rendering of body and spirit complete.”

Since its inception in 2010, A Palo Seco Flamenco Company has been gaining national recognition for its artistic vision deeply rooted in Flamenco tradition, yet relevant in a modern urban context. Over the past year, they have appeared at the 2012 Chicago Flamenco Festival along with renowned Spanish artists Raimundo and Diego Amador, at Jacob Pillow’s 80th season, at the New York City Between the Seas Festival of Mediterranean Arts, and at the Multicultural Center of East Cambridge.

As a dancer, artistic director Rebeca Tomas trained in Granada at Maite Galan’s Escuela de Danza Espanola and later moved to Madrid, where she studied at the internationally renowned Flamenco academy Amor de Dios. There she appeared at various tablaos, including Al Andalus and Las Carboneras. She is a two-time recipient of both the Jerome Foundation’s Travel and Study Grant and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s MCAF Grant for her company productions. She also received an Artist Fellowship Grant form the CT Commission on Culture and Tourism for the development of new choreography. As a choreographer, Tomas has assisted Tony Award-winning Christopher Gatteli in the Lincoln Center production of “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” as well as for his own “Time, Place, Romance, Dance.” She was choreographer and personal Flamenco trainer for Yaron Zilberman’s indie-drama, “A Late Quartet” (2012), featuring Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener and Philip Seymour Hoffman. She also served as a guest choreographer for Revolucion Latina’s 2011 Choreographer’s Festival and choreographed the group’s piece at the Broadway Cares 25th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition.

For her company productions, Tomas collaborates closely with guitarist and musical director Pedro Cortes. Gypsy by heritage, Cortes began studying with his father and the esteemed Flamenco guitarist Sabicas at an early age. Touring professionally since the age of 17, he is internationally recognized as a soloist and composer. Cortes has performed and toured with Jose Greco, Maria Benitez, la Farruquita, La Tati, Merche Esmeralda, Manolete and the late Lola Flores. He was guest artist with the St. Louis Opera and the New York Grand Opera and was commissioned by the Guthrie Theater in Garcia Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre as Musical Director. He also premiered his work “En la oscuridad de las Minas” at the Teatro Albeniz in Madrid. Mr. Cortes is artistic director of his own Flamenco Fusion group, Amanecer Flamenco De Hoy, as well as Mimbre Y Vareta and Zorongo Flamenco.

The production “Cinco Por Cinco” is conceived and directed by Rebeca Tomas and performed by Tomas and her A Palo Seco Flamenco Company, which includes dancers Sol “La Argentinita,” Marina Elana and Leslie Roybal. Musicians include guitarist and musical director Pedro Cortes, violinist Ali Bello, percussionist Jose Moreno and singer Barbara Martinez. Lighting design is by Stephen Petrilli. Sound design is by Alex Neumann. Some costumes for Ms. Tomas are contributed by Sally Lesser. The company’s website is www.apalosecoflamenco.com.

“Cinco Por Cinco” will be presented by A Palo Seco Flamenco Company at the Theatre 80 Saint Marks, 80 Saint Marks Place in Manhattan, from May 17 to 19, 2013, Friday and Saturday at 8PM and Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are $25 to $40 and are available at the Box Office 212-388-0388 or through the website: www.theatre80.org. Tickets for students and seniors are $20 with valid ID at door.

Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.