Flamenco that sets the stage afire

Times Staff Writer

“Sonidos Gitanos/Gypsy Flamenco,” directed by dancer Maria Bermudez, offered an extraordinary evening of dance and music Friday at the chilly but artistically blistering John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. The program was presented in collaboration with the Fountain Theatre.

As faithful flamenco watchers know, Bermudez is an artist of supreme control and line -- a fierce, tight, intense dancer. She could focus attention entirely upon simple, slow, sensuous rotations of her hands that opened her solo, “Viejo Mundo,” without betraying a ripple of motion elsewhere throughout her body.

Or in contrast, as in the duet, “Paseando por Ronda,” with Andres Pena later in the program, she could yield herself entirely in an explosive backbend that might prompt watch-dog moralists to run screaming to the City Council. And none of this takes into account her complex, percussive footwork.


Introduced as a special guest dancer, Antonio “El Pipa” proved to be a complex, more loosely articulated, extravagant artist. With a face as mobile and expressive as comedian -- or, rather, actor -- Sid Caeser’s, whom Antonio resembles slightly, the young dancer ranged from tormented privacy to incandescent ecstasy.

There was a moment in his long solo, “Solea de Antonio,” in which, after completing one sequence, he made a short walking turn to get into position to begin another. Then it was as if he were struck by lightning from an unseen source and compelled to dance. It was the astonishing transformation from an everyday person into an avatar of mystical force. When he lifted his arms at the end of the dance, as if raising the audience into another realm, a photographer might have captured a moment of mass levitation.

He and Bermudez are such contrasting dancers that their duet, “Sonidos Negros,” was more an interesting exploration of negotation, of accommodation, than a portrait of an ideal pairing, which was better reflected in Bermudez’s duet with Pena. In his solo, “Alegria de Andres,” however, Pena proved every bit as worthy as the others.

Jose Vargas “El Mono,” also on the program, was billed as a festero, a flamenco artist skilled in several components of the art form. Here he was not only an expressive singer but also a witty dancer who proved that sex appeal isn’t limited to scrawny, under-20 models.

The interplay between the dancers and singers Antonio de la Malena and David Lagos, guitarists Jesus Alvarez and Pascual de Lorca and percussionist Luis de la Tota was wonderfully lively and synergistic. Lorca also played a solo brilliantly. And in “Pa’lante,” Alvarez and “El Mono” showed the combination of anguished expression and crackerjack technique that make flamenco so dazzling.