CHANGE UNIVERSE: Magazine Jewels
Andalusia | PeopleFebruary 4, 2009

Soledad: Force of Nature

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You know those days in which Mercury retrograde taps fully to slow down your motion?

Those very important E-mails you sent were never received, your I-pod froze, the Blackberry messenger failed to accept your most recent contact, your server went down at the time you were finishing an important proposal for a client, the alarm clock did not ring, the home answering machine broke, a huge misunderstanding with your co-worker took place at the office and your new date had no idea you had agreed to meet before his call?

Yes, all that is happening because Mercury is in a retrograde motion.  Moreover, It's snowing like crazy in New York City and life seems more chaotic than one could even imagine.

I have a friend in the city who is an actress.  Her name is Puy Navarro and she is from Valencia.  We met last year, introduced by a mutual, Brazilian friend who happens to be one of the best actors in the country.

Puy is precise and punctual.  She's also a Sevillanas instructor, she's certainly acquainted with the concepts of rhythm, tempo, and space.  Together we share a passion for Andalusian culture, especially in regard to great Flamenco legends like dancer Soledad Barrio and her husband Martin Santangelo, artistic director of the Noche Flamenca touring company.

In December, one month in advance, Puy called to tell me that Soledad would be in town for just a short period of time and ask if I desired to join her to see the performance.  I am fully aware that Puy is very well acquainted with Soledad and periodically worked for the Noche Flamenca in Spain and in New York.

"Are you kidding Puy?  Of course I am in!  By the way please, please kindly intervene and ask Soledad if I can have the pleasure of an interview and permission take some pictures for my website." 

"Claro mi amor, consideralo hecho," (of course, my love consider it done!) she said.

Consulting astrologers in my life, I have recently learned a very important concept: Never consider anything done when Mercury is retrograde!

And here I am on a Saturday morning in bed.  It's 11:30, it's snowing outside, and I don't need to be anywhere.  I feel like relaxing quietly exactly where I am but my cell is ringing.  "Joelle? Donde estas?"

''What do you mean where am I?  I am in bed Puy, why?"

"Dios mio, the show is starting in 5 minutes!  Did you forget?"

I realize for a few seconds that I am speechless.  "Isn't the show at midnight?"  Puy, irritated as you can imagine, tells me in English with a strong Spanish accent that everybody is waiting for me and that even if I miss the interview, I should manage to at least arrive in time for the show if nothing else.

I close the phone, speechless, with a simple "Okay," as an answer.  Without going to my closet, I quickly pick up last night's clothes from a chair.  Almost without taking time to breathe, I put my ugly Uggs on and rush by taxi to Joe's Pub on Lafayette Street downtown.

The cell number for Xavier, the company's assistant, is all I've got to get in.  When I ask him on the phone what he looks like, he tells me he looks like a gypsy, has long hair, is wearing 'everything black' and cannot speak English.  Very cute at twenty years old, Xavier finds me and takes my handbag, coat, hat, and umbrella.  He asks with the sweetest voice if my camera shows a red blinking light when one pushes the shutter speed button.

"Yes.  No.  I don't know," is my answer.  I am completely moved by the sound of Spanish guitars and clapping hands coming from the other room.  "I just want to get in Xavier, just want to get in."  The camera's red light viewer goes through a meticulous layering process with Scotch tape.  I am finally led to my seat, right in front of the stage.  There they are, Soledad Barrio and Martin Santangelo, right in front of me.  I forget I still need to breathe.

Under the direction of Santangelo, the award-winning Noche Flamenca has become Spain's most successful touring company.  Formed in 1993 by Martin and his Bessie award-winning wife, Soledad Barrio, the company regularly tours throughout the globe.

Performance highlights in North America include Berkeley's Cal Performances, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the Ravinia Festival, Wolf Trap, and the Hollywood Bowl, among others.  Internationally, the company has appeared on stages in Australia, New Zealand, Greece, and Egypt, among other countries.

In front of me the couple's rigorous and synchronized foot steps transcend into a realm I can't reach yet.  Immersed in the notion of universal tragedy, I start to relate to the primal scream of Flamenco by watching the severity in their expressions.  Perceiving the surrender of their interlaced souls to this theatrical performance, very quietly I am able to calm down and finally catch my breath.

Finally able to breathe, their penetrating performing presence in this micro-universe called Joe's Pub makes me realize I am not alone in life's limitations, whatever they are: social, spiritual, economic, physical or astrological.

And through this flamboyant Flamenco tactic directed by Martin Santangelo, Noche Flamenca's powerful sound of guitars, rhythm, hand clapping, dancing and the raucous intensity of its company singers, heartbreaking expressions of passion, despair, joy, or sorrow suddenly lead the repressive state of Mercury retrograding in my mind to transcend into a totally new dimension, confronting other emotional states that bare the toughest truths about human existence.

As dance critic Tobi Tobias wrote in her review: "The cast members of Noche Flamenca work as a team to provide mounting excitement, but putting them all in the shade, there’s Soledad dressed in black. She delivers her solos in chapters.  One segment finishes, having gone as far as it can.  A pause, and then the movement rouses up again, as if to tackle the same subject from a new angle.

Slowly, her hair falls loose from its tight arrangement bordering the nape of her neck as her soul seems to stiffen within, in sheer determination to explore fully what most people find it safest not to think about. She is the one who takes you places you might never reach without her.

Her feet go on striking relentlessly, now actuating a trembling through her bare legs, exposed as she roughly raises her skirt.  At the end of a section that seems to leave her exhausted, she keeps snapping her fingers at the musicians and curlicuing her hands at the wrists, apparently insisting that she still has something more to say.  At this point you feel that the vehemence of her mere glance might turn its object (singer, guitarist, viewer) to stone.

The stage darkens.  She moves to a light in the corner and crouches over it.  Then, having been trailed by the musicians in a raggedy processional, she swivels to face them.

She rises to her full height, stretching her arms high.  That final gesture reads as a triumphant announcement: Beyond death there is nothing to fear."

On the way out, Puy introduces me to the company.  Martin very kindly invites me to watch the show once more this evening and possibly reserve some time for our interview.  Unfortunately, I must be in the Hamptons for the birthday of a dear friend of mine.

The next day Martin, Soledad, and the group are leaving early in the morning to proceed with their tour. Martin offers his E-mail so I can forward my questions.  He does not know that Soledad, without a word, during this retrograde phase of Mercury, already answered them all.

Joelle's Picks:

The company: Soledad Barrio and the Noche Flamenca.

The company has launched a development initiative to help build the infrastructure to support ever more ambitious creative productions and a possible permanent home in New York for teaching and performing.

Noche Flamenca is dedicated to bringing the authentic form of Flamenco to the public through its performances around the globe.  Unfortunately, ticket sales only cover 40% of their expenses.  Contributions help offset the costs of rehearsals, costumes, salaries, transportation, etc.  All contributions are greatly appreciated and can be sent to: 168 West 86th St. Suite 9A New York, NY 10024

The 2008 Promotional Video:

References : 'Undertow'  by Tobi Tobias/Voice of Dance

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