Artistry from the soul

Times Staff Writer

A sense of community is one of the great joys of Sonidos Gitanos / Gypsy Flamenco, the ever-changing company from Spain’s Jerez de la Frontera that made its seventh visit to the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Friday, presented by the Fountain Theatre.

Flamenco is most often a fiercely challenging solo dance form -- body, mind, soul all tested within strict musical structures. But here, even insular showpieces are warmed by constant interplay with the resident musicians.

On Friday, singers Pepe de la Joaquina and Milagros de los Reyes (“La Chiqui”) often turned dance solos into duets by adding their improvisational footwork to their colleagues’ performances. And guitar artistry shone not merely in dance accompaniments but also in a lilting extended solo by Antonio Jero and an exciting collaboration between Jesus Alvarez and percussionist Luis de la Tota.

As always, the dancing was led by Maria Bermudez, an artist capable of focusing on complex percussive heelwork in one passage, powerful emotional projection in another and then throwing it all away in glorious idiosyncratic outbursts: playful heel-and-toe steps, cantilevered bullfighter turns, confrontational shadow-boxing stances, wherever the impulse led her.


Her duets with guest artist Jonatan Miro had a carefully matched movement style along with a simmering sexual chemistry that suddenly flared when he pulled her to him. A nobly proportioned Catalan youth, Miro also soloed with distinction, showcasing powerful step-attacks, sleek multiple turns at the ends of phrases and a brilliant rhythmic acuity.

You could argue that his elegant, curling wrists and fingers looked grafted onto his arms and didn’t really belong to them -- that he danced too forcefully for such niceties. If so, this was the only out-of-place element in his beautifully schooled, charismatic performances.

Short and stocky, with a long mane stretching nearly to his waist, Jose de los Reyes (“El Rin”) capitalized on an explosive, rough-edged style in which step sequences ended with intense stomping, punching, hair-lashing, whirling and an abrupt stop (not always in balance). Imagine a rhythmic tantrum by someone fully grown and maybe dangerous and you can sense the effect Reyes achieved.

Folk vigor is a major component of flamenco, and when it’s neglected -- as in recent local performances by Nuevo Ballet Espanol -- the result can seem bloodless and narcissistic. Reyes, Miro and Bermudez reminded us, each in an individual way, of how deeply rooted this art has always been and how its roots are the source of its integrity and renewal.