Israel Galván interacts
with a guitarist and singer
in his intense and stylized
Flamenco dance is a glorious departure from normal.
Hence, this must be an American speaking. Someone with the romantic languages in her blood and popular culture fatigue in her bones. Car chases. Faces pummeled. Guns exploding. Women raped. Enough. Give me Andalusian soul music. Show me your beating heart.
Today I had the great fortune to see flamenco dancer Israel Galván in one of his last performances in NYC this fall. It’s a 10-minute walk from when I’m staying and despite this week’s rave review in the NY Times, I managed to get the best seat in the house.
Here’s what today’s flamenco performance was like. And though the performance, titled “La Edad de Oro,” is avant-garde by traditional standards, what I describe here is pure flamenco:
Three men on a stage — one dancer (Israel Galván), one singer (David Lagos) and one guitarist (David’s brother Alfredo). They’re all dressed in black, though at one point Galván changes to white shoes. The stage is bare except for their chairs and a speaker for the guitarist. The backdrop is black. Lighting is often from above and it’s minimal. Everything that happens happens between the men and the music and the audience.
It’s intimate. Us and them.
The performance feels like a long story that Galván starts off by stepping into the solitary beam of light and beginning a percussive dance with, at first, no accompaniment. Sometimes the only sounds are his vocalizations. Sometimes he is completely still and there is only silence. David begins to sing and Alfredo plays his guitar. They trade off, Galván sitting while David or Alfredo continues. It’s a conversation, told in music and dance, that lasts for an hour and a half. Exuberant, plaintive, funny in parts, the dance and music portray us, in conflict, in love, in loss. And when Galvan stomps his feet and arcs his entire body with arms straining toward the ends of the universe, it is unbearably intense.
Olé! Sí! Bravo! I found I was amid a Spanish-speaking audience, used to joining in, at times, with expressions of appreciation and exclamations of joy. It felt as if we were at a juerga — a spontaneous gathering, perhaps in Spain at some small pub — drinking wine, reflecting on our lot in life. The dancer or singer begins a lament and soon everyone joins in.
This art comes from the heart and is transformed by skill and training and generations of dancers and singers and guitarists evolving to this, where Galván is on the edge of something old and new.
What I describe is passion and I express tremendous gratitude to know passion and to recognize it in others who take it whole and shape it into beautiful art.
As we left the theater, I heard one man say to his group of friends: “I feel so lucky to have witnessed this.”
Perhaps he's also saying is that he feels fortunate to be understood. That his passions have a place in his life.