[Dance Review] Not That Magnetic

Magneta

¡Magneta!

Flamenco Sin Fronteras

13 November 2015

Goodman Arts Centre Black Box

13–14 November 2015

Spanning ten different items and six different palos (styles), ¡Magneta! strives to showcase the versatility and creativity of the company. Unfortunately, the attraction is not consistent.

The programme starts off with two weak performances. The first item plays on what the public would think of as flamenco music—Gipsy Kings. Against the sultry rendition of Volare by Toshiaki Konno, most of the dancers ignored the meaning of the song title as they dance with their wings clipped. Apart from Tilly Wong and Cheryl Ng who exude joy, the other dancers are extremely cautious and look as if they are counting the rhythms or recalling the next step. Thankfully, this feeble item ended quickly.

As the dancers leave the stage with a slight flourish, Saori Otsuka enters to perform the Cantiñas. While Otsuka is technically excellent, her guarded approach to the dance is puzzling given that she personally adapted the dance from a choreography by Alicia Marquez and Pilar Ogalla. Whatever attraction one feels to her strong and steady footwork is neutered.

To break the slumber, Toshiaki Konno bursts in with a barrage of footwork as he performs the Solea Por Bulerias. Konno exudes sheer confidence as he communicates with the musicians and the audience. Alternating between sleek moves and fiery footwork, he even finds time to toss a stray hair clip aside with nonchalance. The floor of the black box does an injustice to Konno’s dancing as it fails to convey the full timbre and musicality of his footwork.

Guitarist Sergio Muñoz lets us down gently from the euphoria of Konno’s performance with a heartfelt solo. As he strums and plucks the guitar strings, there is a sense of deep searching. In response, the faces of the audience light up. Unfortunately, this is not due to Muñoz’s virtuosity, but to their imbecility as they treat him like a street busker and fix their eyes on their phones. This selfish vigil also occurs in the latter half of the show when he performs another guitar solo.

Tilly Wong and Nobuyoshi Nakane kick the show up a notch as they take turns to perform different letras (verses) of the Alegrias. Wong radiates a quiet and infectious joy with her slight smile and her ease in handling the bata de cola (skirt with long train) as she sweeps across the stage. Nakane’s steely reserve serves as a nice counterpoint. His letra starts off quite conservatively as it consists mainly of ‘marking steps.’ He breaks away from that in his escobilla (series of footwork) with a lovely variation of the standard steps and takes more risks towards the end. The short duet in the end is wonderfully playful and the chemistry between both dancers is apparent. Wong and Nakane successfully capture the spirit of the dance.

Over the years, Carmen has become everyone’s favourite gypsy girl. Dark, mysterious, sensual, desirable, and exotic. Rather than presenting the usual seduction scene, Daphne Huang-Vargas (Carmen) and Pedro Simoni (Don José) take on the ambitious task of condensing the whole story into a few minutes.

Unfortunately, it is a few minutes too long.

Instead of using the language of flamenco to intimate what happened between the couple, Huang-Vargas performs a pointless scene in which she acts like a rebellious teenage gangster girl and asks us why we are staring at her in an exaggerated Singaporean accent. The script is as pointless as it is literal—later on, we see Don José saying how much he loves Carmen and asks why she has decided to leave him.

Any more literal and the stage manager will have to read the stage directions out loud.

Thankfully, Yuriko Kurose performing the Farruca returns us to something we can appreciate and enjoy. Attired in a red suede crop jacket, high-waisted black trousers, and hair tied into the ponytail, Kurose pays homage to Carmen Amaya (the Carmen we should all remember rather than the monstrosity popularised by Bizet). While Kurose does not have Amaya’s energy and magnetism, her Farruca is technically flawless which is enhanced by her crisp angular lines.

Mamiko Nakane’s Bulerias is surprisingly too short. However, she makes use of every single second on stage in giving a delightful performance. When the Zorongo started, I thought it was still part of the Bulerias. Despite the slight confusion, the synchronicity of the mantones (shawls) adds a certain visual spectacle as the show ends on a good note.

While the choreographies in ¡Magneta! are relatively traditional, it offers the audience a broad overview of the variety and colours that flamenco can offer. This is a small but important step to break flamenco away from the stereotype of it being merely about passion and sensuality.

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