A Fenómeno of the Flamenco World: NY TIMES
What makes a flamenco star? A driving sense of rhythm. A visceral, almost carnal connection with the musicians onstage. (Flamenco is primarily a musical form, as the pros love to remind us.) And, of course, impressive technique: crisp, blindingly fast footwork, deep backbends, sculptural arms, fluid hands.
Jesús Carmona has all of these things. Mr. Carmona, who returns to New York this week for the Flamenco Festival, has another quality as well: charisma. He can hold the audience’s attention even when still, or when he moves only his arms or his hands. In short, “es un fenómeno” — he’s a phenomenon — the director of the festival, Miguel Marín, said on a Skype call from Madrid.
At the Flamenco Festival, his company, Ballet Flamenco Jesús Carmona, will dance “Ímpetus” on March 11. This evening-length show was choreographed by Mr. Carmona for six dancers (including himself) and five musicians.
It’s not a traditional flamenco evening; in its purest form, flamenco is improvised. With some exceptions, the music here is original (by the ensemble’s guitarists Dani Jurado and Óscar Lago) rather than based on standard flamenco numbers. And the orchestration includes a violin — not a traditional flamenco instrument. “The voice of the violin helps me dance,” Mr. Carmona said in an interview, describing his affinity with the instrument’s weeping tone. “I feel connected to it, like a partner.”
Purists may moan, but Mr. Carmona, 32, represents the new wave in flamenco and, more widely, Spanish dance. Dogmas about authenticity have given way to independence and experimentation.
As Flamenco has become increasingly professionalized, the general level of technique has risen. “Under every rock you find an incredible dancer,” Mr. Carmona said. Today, most, like Mr. Carmona, have gone through conservatories, receiving training in ballet, flamenco, escuela bolera (highly codified traditional dances with castanets and fans), and modern dance techniques developed by choreographers like José Limón and Martha Graham.
Mr. Carmona has also studied tap with the New York tapper Jared Grimes. This new influence has expanded the repertory of sounds and dynamics Mr. Carmona can create with his wooden-heeled, nail-studded flamenco boots, and he has added a few slides as well. During the first week of the festival, which started on Friday, the two dancers shared a program at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Their amicably competitive rapport was one of the highlights of the evening.
The new generations of flamenco creators are artistically restless, too. Their shows tend toward the personal, the eclectic, sometimes even the eccentric. “That’s why I have my own company,” Mr. Carmona explained, with a laugh, “so I have the freedom to do what I want or need to do at any given time.”
In this vein, “Ímpetus” is structured like a thoughtful traversal through various dance styles. There is a trio for three women and a giant red mantón — the traditional fringed shawl — set to a lyrical guitar melody; a solo for Mr. Carmona that uses only percussion, with a focus on his upper body and arms; and even a balletic pas de deux, full of small, academic steps like glissades and entrechats. “It’s not exactly ballet, and it’s not exactly escuela bolera, and it’s not flamenco,” he said. “It’s a hybrid.”
The high point of “Ímpetus” is a solo for Mr. Carmona in which he performs with (and for) the singer Jonatan Reyes. The piece is a bulería, a strongly accented, high-spirited song form. Again and again, Mr. Carmona charges the singer, snapping his fingers, slapping his thighs and chest, feet pattering out fast rhythms. The two, dancer and singer, are locked in a completely private exchange, seemingly oblivious to the world.
“I don’t know what he’s going to sing, and he doesn’t know what I’m going to dance,” Mr. Carmona said. “It’s that moment of surprise, which is so important in flamenco. Anything can happen.”
“Ímpetus” is a quiet, even pensive show for a dancer known for his extroverted, electrifying stage persona. “I’m a very impetuous person, on and offstage,” he said. His biography bears that out. He left home at 16 to pursue a professional career, after giving his mother an ultimatum: “I told her, either you let me go, or one day, you’ll find a farewell letter on the bed!” he recalled. He joined Nuevo Ballet Español and then danced for five years with the Ballet Nacional de España, becoming one of its biggest stars.
But lately he has been trying to corral his energies, to slow things down and build intensity through containment. “I’ve been realizing that I’m comfortable with stillness. You listen to the music, the singing, the guitar. It’s like a battery, slowly charging, and then, boom.”
This idea of restraint is also the inspiration behind a new experiment at the Flamenco Festival, a workshop entitled “Exploring Stillness,” conceived by Mr. Marín. “For me,” Mr. Marín said, “the most powerful moments are when the dancer is still. It can be more exciting than seeing 20 pirouettes.”
The workshop will involve three dancers from different disciplines: Mr. Carmona, the Madrid-born Joaquin De Luz of New York City Ballet, and the American modern dancer-choreographer David Neumann. (Mr. Carmona and Mr. De Luz are friends: Mr. Carmona stayed with Mr. De Luz when he came to New York to study tap.) The fourth participant is more of a wild card: Ivan Bavcevic, a Reiki master and meditation coach who runs a “school of awareness” in Spain. After five days of working together, they will present the fruits of the collaboration at an event on Friday at City Center.
No matter the results, the workshop points to an essential quality of Mr. Carmona’s performance style — the contrast between wild, almost anarchic energy, and something more distilled. Not content to be simply a fenómeno, he’s exploring new dimensions in his dancing. Or, as he put it, “soy un tío que siempre quiere más” — I always want more.