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Joanne Zimbler
California Dancing
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The Fountain Theatre
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA

Viva Reyes Barrios' 'Forever Flamenco'

by Joanne Zimbler
May 28, 2019
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Los Angelenos, dreaming of a summer vacation to an exotic location but lack the resources, time, or any of the other many things necessary for such an adventure? Well the good news is we don’t have to travel— because the world in fact comes to us. In addition to all of those outgoing flights, many are incoming, bringing in exotic cultures and people, many who delight in immersing you in cultural experiences which can deliver you to almost any of the far flung locales a plane could take you. One such person is Reyes Barrios who presented her Forever Flamenco production at The Fountain Theater on May 26, 2019 to a packed house full of Angelenos looking for just such such an experience. And after all of the singing, stomping, and Spanish guitar, I still feel like I haven’t returned after being transported to Spain last night.

The Fountain Theater’s intimate configuration creates a cozy backdrop and was ideal for the singer, two guitarists, and three female dancers who all began seated on stage for “Bulerias”. In resplendently frilled traditional dresses, the women took turns dancing classic flamenco, carefully watching one another and clapping along with the music until it was the other’s turn to dance. The dancers finished together in a choreographed ending in which the lights went down to a crescendo of guitars and percussive feet, setting a haunting yet passionate tone for the remainder of the performance.

Unlike the placid faces of ballerinas, flamenco dancers engage their faces in the storytelling. In “Cante”, dancers Reyes Barrios and Briseyda Zarate did not simply dance to the beautiful music being created right there on stage, they were its physical embodiment. Their intricate foot movements gave way to stomps, cries, and yelps, as they sang along to the music and emoted through exquisite dance movements, their faces expressing the sorrow, pain, and joy they sang about. Flamenco’s impact is less about the technical aspects of the movements and more about the passion, engaging not just the body but the dancers’ souls and Barrios and Zarate certainly bared theirs in this powerful piece. When the dance concluded, Reyes told us that that was their first time performing that piece as the audience laughed believing it a joke. But later she said it again. Thinking back on it, it is no surprise because the intensity of feeling the music generated in them would have been lost with rehearsal. This was improvisation, an conversation between the two women’s legs, hands, feet, eyes etc. and a plea to the audience to witness their passion. Although we non-Spanish speakers may not have understood the lyrics, their dance vocabulary told a universal story. A quick glimpse around revealed that the audience was clearly moved.

Next was Arleen Hurtado’s turn in her pink fringe and ruffles to stomp about in a lighter piece which reset the mood. Her dance, however, was no less emphatic in that it felt not just like a dance but a monologue told by her body. Her impossibly fast foot movements provided the song’s percussion and were accompanied by snake like arm movements with more of the intense eye contact. So transported was I that I could almost smell the sea air of the Mediterranean and feel the sangria glass in hand.

It’s often assumed that flamenco dancers always perform with castanets. However this is not true and only one performance included this flourish. After intermission, Hurtado was back, this time with a bold new look and attitude. Donned in a fiery red dress, she was now on stage alone except for guitarist Ben Woods, who now stood to play, often exchanging charged looks with the dancer. The red of her dress conjured up images of bullfighters’ red capes (and blood) once again evoking pasion, but of a different type this time. Assuming the role of siren, which came quite naturally to Hurtado, she again rhythmically accompanied Woods but now it was her feet and the castanets providing percussion for his seductive melody. This performance did not hint of any improvisation, as their synchronized precision was in perfect accord.

Not only did the performance transport us to Spain, it also took us on an emotional journey.

The final two numbers were solo pieces for Zarate and Barrios who both delivered more of their emotionally resonant styles. Once again, just as expressive as their bodies were, their faces also told the story as they registered the grief, pain, frustration, and joy which the music induced. During Zarate’s solo, Barrioss sang, her heartbreaking canto so sonorously rich, she couldn’t control her arms from also moving in flamenco style. These dancers were certainly not “phoning it in” at all. I’m not sure how much of their performance was improvised, but they were certainly “in the moment,” possessed by the emotions the music generated in them.

Although now a Californian, Barrios learned her craft in her native Spain as a child, while Zarate and Hurtado have also both performed and studied in Seville. All women have been lauded internationally as well and are recognized as leading figures in the world of flamenco. Singer Juan de Dios Cruz Cabezuelo and guitarists Antonio Triana and Ben Woods also bring with them international backgrounds and acclaim. So it is not just the international experiences that we are privy to here in Los Angeles; lets’ not take for granted the caliber and quality of the performers.
Reyes Barrios' 'Forever Flamenco'

Reyes Barrios' 'Forever Flamenco'

Photo © & courtesy of Photographer Unknown

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