Macho Eye for Flamenco Dance


Matador, performed at Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain, Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reviewed by John Herbert Cunningham

The Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre is an impressive place made even more so now that Le Cercle Molière has recently relocated into its newly erected building. Cora’s Restaurant has opened up a location inside the Centre, creating a fine spot to take your mother-in-law for brunch for her birthday. Provencher, on which the Centre fronts, has many exceptional and interesting shops which will keep you busy for at least a couple of hours before you have to return and pick her up.

It was on Saturday, March 26 when I attended what I thought was going to be a flamenco dance recital. I was soon corrected by Pedro Aurelio, the artistic director of Bolero Dance Theatre, who founded the company in 1997. He is a jack-of-all-dance-trades – dancer, choreographer, set and costume designer. To keep himself fresh and up-to-date on Spanish dance, he makes annual trips to Spain for study purposes. Aurelio advised that “there are four major Spanish dance styles: (1) the Bolero, the oldest dance form, very balletic with complicated castanet and arm movements, (2) Flamenco, (3) folkloric Spanish dances, the fandango, used for the wedding dance in Matador’s Act 1, Scene 3, and (4) classical Spanish dance, which uses movements from the first three but is danced to Spanish classical music such as that of Albéniz, three of whose compositions were performed during Matador.

Matador is an adaptation of a novel, Sangre y Arena (Blood and Sand) by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (1867-1928). Aurelio wanted to write this adaptation for seven or eight years, he said in a telephone conversation. Rather than taking the story directly from the novel, he took it from a silent film version starring Rudolph Valentino. Aurelio said that he “took the major scenes from there dividing the film into important moments. He then selected appropriate music and dances that would capture the emotion of the scene.”

Juan Gallardo (Pedro Aurelio) is a young bullfighter who has been earning renown in the arena. He has married his childhood sweetheart, Carmencita (Gloria Chen), a dancer who performs in the tavern owned by his mother, Señora Angustias (Shelley Eros). As he gains fame, he becomes attracted to an aristocratic woman, Doña Sol (Monique Rivera), who has sought him out to seduce him.

So how does a guy talk about all the incredible costumes in the show without coming off sounding like an understudy for one of the cast of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? Suffice it to say that there were more costume changes in this show than in any by Diana Ross or Madonna. And the incredible array of colours – the blues, reds, greens, yellows. Yowsa! There was one this particular Spanish señorita wore – black with large emerald green polka dots – that had me drooling.

This dance theatre consisted of two acts, each of which had a number of scenes. Spanish dance is renowned for its passion. This may have surprised the audience sitting through Act 1. Even though there was a rumba, a bolero, a tango and a fandango incorporated into the three scenes in that act, Act 1 was nothing if not subdued. The women were beautiful, the costumes elegant, the men macho and yet it lay there like an egg on a sidewalk in January. But then came the second act, which exceeded the promise of passion.

This was due primarily to three dancers in addition to Aurelio himself. It remains staggering that Monique Rivera, as Doña Sol, is still in high school. When she decides to let loose, as she did in Act 2, Scene 3, the seduction scene, she is caliente. This scene would not have been as searing as it was without Gloria Chen, as Carmencita, the scorned wife. Their duel over Juan Gallardo was intense. In the end, both women desert him leaving him depressed and bewildered on the eve of his bullfight, which is the final scene.

Beny Pupo, the Cuban dancer who is currently dancing with the RWB, had made his appearance in Scene 2, Act 2 during which he had several members of the audience shouting out “Ole!” to his amazing abilities. In the final scene, dressed in black with his face painted, he represented the bull to Aurelio’s matador. The scene began with Aurelio, the essence of strutting machismo, entering the arena accompanied by his two picadors played by Howard Chan and Harold Rancano. Then Pupo entered, to the delight of the audience. The picadors having unleashed their lances into the bull, left the stage leaving the matador and the bull alone to face each other. In typical matador style, Aurelio feigned drawing the bull closer and closer to his body until it was time for the final sabre thrust that would end the bull’s life. Unfortunately, at the same time, the bull decided to end the matador’s. As the matador lay dying, Carmencita emerged from the crowd to comfort him in his final moments.

The musical quintet accompanying the dancers was awesome. It was led by the guitarist and percussionist Duncan McGregor who has studied flamenco guitar in Winnipeg, Toronto, Los Angeles, Spain and England. He is extremely talented both on guitar and cajon, the percussion box which he played in the last two musical numbers. The Spanish rasgueado, a rapid strumming technique, sounded different than the more familiar Latin American one, but perhaps that was because it was incorporated into an astounding arrhythmic percussive technique. The pianist, Michael McKay, was also exceptional in the way he incorporated an off-beat percussive attack. The remainder of the group – another guitarist and two female vocalists one of whom played cello – were also effective.

Unfortunately, Bolero’s performances are not around long. There was only a Sunday matinee in addition to the Saturday evening performance. They will be part of this year’s Fringe Festival, giving you an opportunity to catch their next performance.

One Comment

  1. Posted April 10, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks for another awesome post. I am quite sure this article has helped me save many hours of reading other similar posts just to find what I was looking for. Keep up the good work: Thank you!


John Herbert Cunningham

John Cunningham is a Winnipeg writer. His poetry reviews have appeared in Arc, Prairie Fire, and other literary magazines.

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