Dramatic Gowns and Cajón Sounds: From the “Cradle of Flamenco”

Erin Davenport – “Outside of these doors we carry different identities, lead different lives—but tonight, we’re united as an audience, and will become a community by experiencing the same art.” This is how Sana Alimohamed ’17, the student producer of the Artist Series, opened the performance by Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana. Alimohamed went on to describe the group as one of the best flamenco dance companies, but most importantly she set a tone for the performance which brought together the crowd for what would be an incredible dance and musical journey.

This spirit of unity was definitely felt in the audience reactions throughout the performance. Many gasps and applauses were delivered in harmonious consensus. Even though the majority of audience members seemed to be community members, students in attendance also seemed to deeply appreciate the work. Davidson’s International community was in full force at the event, with rows of seats reserved for those students and their Davidson host families to enjoy the performance together.

Alimohamed further explained that: “flamenco is an improvised dance and that the pieces can be anywhere between 9 to 12 minutes depending on how the dancers and musicians feel the piece. The light technicians, dancers, and musicians all have to coordinate with each other in these moments because the dance is so fluid.”

The show opened with a city backdrop meant to evoke a Spanish street. From the beginning, the dancers and live musicians made flamenco accessible and engaging. The intense eye contact from the dancers drew the audience in, and once there, an emotional narrative was presented by Flamenco Vivo’s members. Several of the dance numbers were inspired by Spanish painters, including one which focused on Julio Romero de Torres and another which featured works by Pablo Picasso.

Costumes for women involved floor length gowns of various levels of formality. The opening outfits for women were in pink and purple hues, and evoked an upper class motif when paired with suits for the men. Later in the show, these outfits gave way to slightly more casual ensembles. Interspersed among the dance performances were musical interludes which features only the live music. Liu Volpe, ’17, said: “As part of the Smith Series planning committee, I was ecstatic about Tuesday’s Flamenco performance. Though I was impressed by the dancers, I found myself more fascinated by the musical performers. The musicians were almost always on stage performing without a break and played without looking at a score.”

Indeed, audience members seemed especially transfixed by the cajón, a six-sided percussion instrument used in modern flamenco music. At the end of one particular cajón solo the audience roared its appreciation. Caitie Connor, a student manager of Duke Family Performance Hall, added that “The male vocals were stunning” and “not to undercut the dancers, but my favorite part of the performance was probably the instrumental flamenco piece in the first act–the audience went wild when they finished.”

The tone of the performance, as with most flamenco, seemed to be intense, and almost mournful. Grace Drake, a Spanish 270 student who was invited to attend the performance for free by her professor, remarked that “they seemed to not be emoting happiness but rather strong emotions like pain.”

Costuming could display tone shifts within the performance. At one point during a male dancer’s solo he paused to dramatically roll up the sleeves on his white collared shirt, a sign his dancing was about to become even more dramatic. In a different segment, female dancers ripped their blue dresses off to reveal white ones underneath, producing a vulnerable and emotional moment.

The emotional climax of the performance may have been when a male dancer held his hand to his head mimicking a gun gesture. His suicidal motions kept the audience transfixed. The Duke Family Performance Hall was the perfect venue for this performance, given how innovative the use of the background screen was. Rich colors could be projected and altered throughout the performances. In other moments, introductory videos set the scene for dances to follow.

All in all, Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana’s performance was an excellent representation of the multifaceted, ambitious, spontaneous art form of flamenco, that entertained and delighted its Davidson audience.