Tag Archives: flamenco class

New Video! Hit Comedy/Drama ‘Heart Song’ Extended to Aug 25 at the Fountain Theatre

"Heart Song" at the Fountain Theatre

“Heart Song” at the Fountain Theatre

Hailed as “superb” and “magnificent” by critics and audiences alike, the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed hit comedy/drama Heart Song has been extended to August 25th. The Hollywood Reporter cheers Heart Song as “a genuine delight”, the LA Weekly heralds it as “beautifully performed,” and Broadway World declares Heart Song “a celebration of life you won’t want to miss.” 

Written by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo FinneyHeart Song follows the funny and touching journey of Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), a middle-aged Jewish woman in New York City struggling through a mid-life crisis and the recent loss of her mother. When Rochelle is convinced to take a flamenco class with other women led by a passionate Gypsy instructor (Denise Blasor), her life and world-view is changed forever.   

Enjoy The New ‘Heart Song’ Video Trailer

Heart Song  (323) 663-1525  MORE INFO

‘Heart Song’ Cafe Chat: The Power of Faith, Healing and Birthday Cake

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We enjoyed a passionate and insightful chat with audience members yesterday in our cafe after the sold-out Sunday matinee of Heart Song. The hit play has been striking a deep chord with audiences since it opened to rave reviews in May. Its funny and touching dramatization of the themes of faith, grief, loss, friendship, empowerment and the mother/daughter relationship has ignited a strong need in audiences to want to talk about it after.  Yesterday, the play’s director, playwright and cast members gathered in our cafe after the matinee performance for an informal chat with audience members to share thoughts and feelings about the play they had just seen and performed.

Director Shirley Jo Finney discussed the universal chords in the play, pointing out that the intersection of cultures in the story demonstrates that “we are all one people”.  Actress Elissa Kyriacou shared her own personal story describing how, after recently losing her own mother, the play has served as an extraordinary healing process. Juanita Jennings remarked on the profound affect the play has had on all the women in the cast — and even her husband, who had a cathartic experience while seeing the play. Playwright Stephen Sachs spoke about the genesis of writing the play and how the script evolved through many drafts.  

The men and women who had just seen the play asked questions and made comments describing how deeply they were moved by the performance. Heart Song is a funny and powerful new play about a middle-aged woman named Rochelle (played by Pamela Dunlap)  struggling through a crisis of faith and the recent loss of her mother. Rochelle’s life is changed when she is convinced to take a flamenco class with other middle-aged women.

Yesterday was also an afternoon of joyous celebration as we toasted director Shirley Jo Finney on her birthday. Cake and ice cream was shared by all.  What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday: a terrific afternoon of theatre followed by a thought-provoking and heartfelt discussion topped with yummy ice cream and birthday cake! Who could ask for anything more?

Heart Song has been extended to August 25th.

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The Healing Power of Flamenco in ‘Heart Song’ at the Fountain Theatre

"Heart Song" at the Fountain Theatre

“Heart Song” at the Fountain Theatre

by Iris Mann

As her mother’s yahrzeit approaches, a middle-aged woman undergoes a crisis of the soul in the play “Heart Song,” currently at The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. The woman, Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), then joins a flamenco class and experiences the transformative power of that dance form. Playwright Stephen Sachs, who co-founded the theater with Deborah Lawlor, said that, due to Lawlor’s love for the dance, the Fountain has become the foremost presenter of flamenco in Los Angeles.

“The idea came to me,” Sachs explained, “that the writing of a play where a character takes a flamenco class and is changed by it would be a really good vehicle through which to tell the story, because the audience shares the experience with our lead character and enters the new world of flamenco with her.”

Sachs described the character of Rochelle as someone disconnected from her Judaism, her culture, her religion, her faith and her God.

Playwright Stephen Sachs

Playwright Stephen Sachs

“In that first scene, she talks about having forgotten the words to the Kaddish, which is something that she has known ever since she was a little girl, but now she can’t remember the words, and so she’s lost. She’s mourning the loss of her mother and struggling with some really deep philosophical questions, not only about grief and loss, but about the meaning of life and what’s our purpose.”

Rochelle’s turmoil was triggered when she went through a closet after her mother’s death and found a box with a girl’s striped dress from the concentration camp at Birkenau. At first she wasn’t sure who owned the dress.

“I think she suspected it was her mother,” Sachs said, “but, because her mother never talked about it, it was an issue that was never spoken in the home, and she never shared her true feelings.

Sachs continued, “Her mother was unable to share her pain with her own daughter.”

The challenging relationship that Rochelle had with her mother is something with which Dunlap can identify. Like Rochelle’s mother, her own mother was not very forthcoming.

Maria Bermudez and Pamela Dunlap in 'Heart Song'.

Maria Bermudez and Pamela Dunlap in ‘Heart Song’.

“Of course, my mother was not harboring the gravity of a secret like Rochelle’s mother was hiding. Actually, my mother said to me, the week of her death, ‘There is something I have never told you. I have to tell you.’ And she was not well. She was frail, and she was agitated and her breath was labored, and I got concerned. I calmed her down and said, ‘Tell me tomorrow. We can talk about it later. You don’t have to tell me now.’ She died. And I don’t know what that secret was.”

Dunlap added, “Most of us have secrets; most of us have big secrets, and we take those secrets to the grave with us, like Rochelle’s mother did.”

Rochelle’s mother also took her true name to the grave. After discovering the concentration camp uniform, Rochelle found out that her mother was born with a Polish name that she had changed. She’s now beside herself because she feels the name on the gravestone is wrong.

When she joins the flamenco group, Rochelle learns from its leader, a Gypsy named Katarina (Maria Bermudez, who is also the play’s choreographer), that there is a tradition of having two names in Gypsy culture. One name is private and known only to the Gypsy community, and the other is the name used in the outside world.

“I just thought that was a really interesting idea and metaphor to use in the play too,” Sachs remarked.

Rochelle also learns about the interconnectedness of the four cultures represented in the group; besides her Judaism and Katarina’s Gypsy roots, there is the Japanese heritage of Tina (Tamlyn Tomita), the masseuse who introduced Rochelle to flamenco, and the African-American culture of Daloris (Juanita Jennings), who befriends Rochelle.

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings, Pamela Dunlap in "Heart Song"

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings, Pamela Dunlap in “Heart Song”

As Katarina illuminates the mysteries of flamenco, the dance becomes the catalyst for revealing the deep-seated pain born of suffering that is shared by all the cultures. Daloris talks of the blues and its relevance to her culture; Katarina speaks of the Nazi extermination of the Gypsies, much like the extermination of the Jews; Tina expounds on the internment camps in which the Japanese-Americans were held during World War II.

“Too often what we do, and that’s a major theme, we carry other people’s stories,” director Shirley Jo Finney stated, “and part of the letting go is to create our own story.

“I think that’s one of the things each of those ladies, all of those ladies, in fact, were having to reconcile.”

According to Gypsy tradition, flamenco leads the dancer to reach into the farthest recesses of the soul to release the pain residing there, and, ultimately, Rochelle does find release in an anguished wail, the kind of outcry known to the Gypsies as the cante jondo, a primal scream that “rends the world in two” and is common to all cultures.

“Every culture has a wound,” Finney observed, “and it’s the deep need to be seen, to be nurtured, to feel safe.

“And [for] each of the tribes, when they talked about the tribes within that piece, that’s where the cry comes from. The cry comes from not being acknowledged, and the cry comes from that deep-seated place of self-expression.”

For playwright Sachs, working on this story helped him examine issues of spirituality and mortality that are part of the human experience and are very personal to him.

“The older we get,” he mused, “the more friends we seem to be losing, and it just makes one think about one’s own time, the time that we have left and how we’re spending it. I’m very much wrestling with that, and so the play allowed me to kind of swim in that water for awhile.”

Iris Mann writes for the Jewish Journal.

Heart Song Extended to Aug 25th  (323) 663-1525  MORE 

Smash Hit Comedy/Drama ‘Heart Song’ Extends to August 25th at the Fountain Theatre

"Heart Song" at the Fountain Theatre

“Heart Song” at the Fountain Theatre

Hailed as “superb” and “magnificent” by critics and audiences alike, the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed hit comedy/drama Heart Song has been extended to August 25th. The Hollywood Reporter cheers Heart Song as “a genuine delight”, the LA Weekly heralds it as “beautifully performed,” and Broadway World declares Heart Song “a celebration of life you won’t want to miss.” 

Written by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, Heart Song follows the funny and touching journey of Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), a middle-aged Jewish woman in New York City struggling through a mid-life crisis and the recent loss of her mother. When Rochelle is convinced to take a flamenco class with other women led by a passionate Gypsy instructor (Denise Blasor), her life and world-view is changed forever.   

The Fountain Theatre world premiere has earned rave reviews and sold-out houses since it opened  in May.

MIRACULOUS! A tender, deeply layered journey to the center of a woman’s soul.” – Stage Happenings
EXTRAORDINARY!  I wanted to jump up and shout ‘Bravo’ when the lights came up!” Los Angeles Post 
DAZZLING! A transcendent evening of theatre!”   – Explore Dance
A MUST SEE! It will make you laugh one minute and sad the next, but in the end you will be thrilled. “  – Los Angeles Post   

ELECTRIFYING! At once contagiously funny and fiercely dramatic, touching every emotion. Top-notch direction and a resplendent cast, Heart Song is a life-affirming poem that must be experienced.” – Broadway World

FLAWLESS! The acting is fabulous and the dancing spectacular!” – LASplash
VERY FUNNY! Extraordinarily moving!” On Stage Los Angeles

The play’s mesmerizing mixture of drama, comedy and flamenco music/dance has been the highlight of feature stories in the Jewish Journal and the Los Angeles Times.  

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings, Pamela Dunlap in "Heart Song"

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings, Pamela Dunlap in “Heart Song”

Heart Song stars Denise Blasor, Andrea Dantas, Pamela Dunlap, Juanita Jennings, Mindy Krasner, Elissa Kyriacou, Sherrie Lewandowski, and Tamlyn Tomita. Choreography by Maria Bermudez.

Heart Song Extended to Aug 25  (323) 663-1525  MORE

Intern Journal: ‘Heart Song’ is Amazing

Lowes Moore III

Lowes Moore III

by Lowes Moore III, Fountain Intern
Yesterday, the best thing happened to me. I booked tickets with one of my good friends to watch Heart Song. After a normal 10am-5pm work day I found my way back to the Fountain to see the show and to also help out whenever needed. I escorted people to their seats while my friend passed out programs. I was not sure what to expect from the play. The only other “flamenco” art I had ever experience was a video Deborah showed me of Timo Nunez on So You Think You Can Dance which was pretty amazing I might say. 
 
After taking my seat in the front row, the show began. From the very first scene my jaw could not get off of the floor. I was so amazed.  Except for the one third of the show I spent laughing way too hard. The other audience members probably thought I was insane. 
Heart Song is an amazing show about one woman’s life changing transformation.  She is basically bribed and dragged into the flamenco class where she finds self-worth, confidence, family, and strength. The show & cast were wonderful, amazing, superb…Okay you get the point. GO SEE IT!  
"Heart Song" at the Fountain Theatre

“Heart Song” at the Fountain Theatre

It was Denise Blasor’s first show (in the role of Katarina) and might I say she looked as if she had been doing this role for years. I felt particularly special because Denise and I got to hang out for a bit on my first day at the Fountain Theatre.  Basically best friends. 
 
I am so lucky to be an intern at the Fountain Theatre. If you have not seen Heart Song yet….I suggest you change that. Don’t miss out. 
 
Last but definitely not least:
 
Tomorrow is Forever Flamenco at the Ford. There has been so much anticipation around this evening and it is finally HERE. The brochure says it best “A stellar evening of world-class artists together for the first time to celebrate 20 years of Forever Flamenco in Los Angeles and pay tribute to founder Deborah Lawlor.” If you are attending you definitely in for a treat and you know how much everyone loves treats. 🙂
Heart Song  Now to July 14 (323) 663-1525   MORE
Our thanks to the LA County Arts Commision  for their support of the Arts Internship Program. 

Pamela Dunlap Dances to a Flamenco Beat in ‘Heart Song’ at the Fountain Theatre

Dance in a graveyard

“Heart Song” at the Fountain Theatre

by Cynthia Citron

“I have a long history of flamenco,” Pamela Dunlap says — her tongue firmly in her cheek.  And thereby hangs the tale.

“Actually, I’m not a dancer,” she continues.  “I’m dragged kicking and screaming into flamenco class” as the lead in Stephen Sachs’ new play Heart Song, now having its premiere at the Fountain Theatre.

Playing Rochelle — a middle-aged, out-of-shape Jewish woman who’s undergoing a crisis of faith — Dunlap is persuaded to join a flamenco class for other middle-aged, out-of-shape women. The production unites two of the Fountain’s specialties — plays and the subject of flamenco (the Fountain is presenting Forever Flamenco at the Ford on June 15).

“It’s an all-female cast,” Dunlap says, “and the camaraderie is great.  It’s a wonderful journey.” Shirley Jo Finney is directing.

When I suggest that it sounds a bit like Steel Magnolias, a perennial favorite, she says, “Oh no, it’s not anything like Steel Magnolias!  In this play nobody has diabetes, nobody’s getting their hair done, and there are no cranky old women.”

Pamela Dunlap

Pamela Dunlap

She should know. She was in a Salt Lake City production of Steel Magnolias, playing the role of the former mayor’s widow, who describes the new mayor’s wife as looking, while dancing, “like two pigs fightin’ under a blanket.”

Dunlap confesses that early in her career she taught Latin dances — the cha-cha, the merengue, the samba — at a Xavier Cugat Dance Studio in New York.  “Cugat was the Arthur Murray of Latin dancing,” she says.  “He had dance studios all over.”

Dunlap is herself a New York woman from Flushing and Jackson Heights.  Currently she considers herself bicoastal, with a home in Manhattan and another in Van Nuys.  In Southern California, she has performed at the Ahmanson, South Coast Rep, and LA Theatre Works, but this is her first appearance at the Fountain.

In New York  she has been seen on Broadway in Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, Redwood Curtain, and Yerma, and in several Off-Broadway roles. Recently, she appeared at Theater Raleigh in North Carolina as Mattie Fae, the nagging sister of Violet and mother of Little Charles in August Osage County.

On TV she has been featured on How I Met Your Mother, NCIS, Law and Order SVU andCommander in Chief, but her most visible role currently is as Betty Draper’s new mother-in-law and abominable baby-sitter for Betty’s daughter Sally on AMC’s Mad Men.

About her role as “Sally’s fiendish baby sitter,” she calls her “a woman with a great sense of entitlement, exactly the opposite of the woman I’m playing in Heart Song — a woman who is struggling to find her sense of entitlement.”

In Heart Song, Rochelle is “a woman who never married, whose mother recently died, and who has very little support.  She’s in a painful place of transition, dealing with mortality and trying to find her own identity,” Dunlap explains.

Flamenco teacher Katarina (Maria Bermudez) and Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap).

Flamenco teacher Katarina (Maria Bermudez) and Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap).

Questioned about her identification with the characters she plays, she says, “acting allows us to play so many different characters, but we can always find something in ourselves that is like the character. The play mirrors the struggles we all go through, and we find a common history that we didn’t suspect we have in common.  A common history or something that connects us to that character.”

On the adventure level, though, she has had a few experiences that aren’t reflected in any play she has appeared in.  For example, when her son, Trevor Morgan Doyle, an anthropologist doing research in Finland, decided to marry a Finnish woman, she traveled to the wedding, driving a car for 10 hours above the Arctic Circle.  “The car was chugging along because the fuel was freezing in the tank,” she says.

She also reports that the bride’s family, “obviously testing my mettle,” invited her to swim with them in weather that was 70 degrees below freezing.  They dug a hole through the ice and then kept scraping the ice off the top of the hole as it froze on contact with the air.

Did she do it?  You bet she did!

“Actually, they claim it’s a cure for depression,” she says.  “You’re shocking your whole system.  I’ve never felt so alive in my life!”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, she has ties with Ethiopia.  She is an active member of the Salt Lake City-based Children of Ethiopia Education Fund, a non-governmental organization that provides schooling for girls in that country.

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings and Pamela Dunlap.

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings and Pamela Dunlap.

When not rolling naked in ice holes and visiting schools in Ethiopia, however, she has taken a few moments to accept awards.  She has received three Drama-Logue awards, has been an honoree of the New York Drama League, and has won an OOBR (Off-Off Broadway Review) award.

As for the future, she has very definite ideas about whom she would like to work with.  Before the question is completely posed, she answers enthusiastically, “Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He’s the real deal.”

But for the present, she is delighted to be working with director Finney, choreographer Maria “Cha Cha” Bermudez, and a cast consisting of Juanita Jennings, Tamlyn Tomita, Bermudez (through June 14), Denise Blasor (beginning June 15), Andrea Dantas, Mindy Krasner, Elissa Kyriacou and Sherrie Lewandowski.

Photos by Ed Krieger. Cynthia Citron writes for LA Stage Times.  

Heart Song Now to July 14 (323) 663-1525  MORE

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: World Premiere of New Comedy/Drama ‘Heart Song’ at the Fountain

'Heart Song' at the Fountain Theatre

‘Heart Song’ at the Fountain Theatre

Our world premiere of the new comedy/drama Heart Song opens tomorrow, May 25. Preview performances have been selling out and audience reaction has been overwhelming:

Heart Song is Fantastic! Run to see this one!
It was one of the best plays I’ve seen in years. Could see it another ten times. Didn’t want it to be over. The time just flew … really, really fantastic.” – J.P., Marina Del Rey

“This is a great play. Full of emotions, so well written, well acted and directed. I cried, I laughed. Wonderful! I can only recommend it.”
– Luzia Wolf 

  “Thank you for creating this beautiful piece, Heart Song. My heart is full and so will be many others.”  – Carol Kline

“Heart tugging and funny! The acting was superb!” – Irene  

Heart Songis the funny and touching story of a middle-aged Jewish woman in New York City in the middle of a life crisis. Her life is changed when she is convinced to take a flamenco class with other middle-aged women. A hilarious and powerful journey of faith, sisterhood and finding her inner voice.
Starring Pamela Dunlap, Tamlyn TomitaJuanita Jennings and Maria Bermudez. Directed by Shirley Jo Finney, choreography by Maria Bermudez, written by Stephen Sachs
Photos by Ed Krieger

Enjoy These Production Photos From ‘Heart Song’

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Heart Song Now – July 14 (323) 663-1525  MORE INFO

Why Dance? Healing Through Movement

Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) takes her first flamenco class.

Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) takes her first flamenco class in ‘Heart Song’.

In the aftermath of the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon or the horrific tornado disaster in Oklahoma, our minds and bodies are left reeling in emotional pain, anxiety, fear, confusion and questioning.  Even those of us who are not direct victims or physically present at these events, collectively, are still affected by watching these traumas unfold on TV or online.  Our bodies take in these experiences and absorb the tension and suffering of such events.  Trauma exists in many forms.

According to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder “a traumatic event is something life-threatening or very scary that you see or that happens to you…. Trauma also includes witnessing someone being killed or injured.“  News broadcasts showing footage over and over of traumatic events such as the Boston Marathon bombing or the Oklahoma disaster victims become not only mental images but also become body memories that for some, can be extremely difficult to process and make sense of.

These experiences need to be processed through the body. Research advances have emphasized the importance of including the body in treatment of any type of trauma. According to dance/movement therapist Claire Moore, ‘‘the sensations and actions that have become stuck in and after a traumatic event need to be integrated in the treatment process, so that the person can regain a sense of familiarity and efficacy in the body.”

This knowledge broadens the options for how people can receive support in order to move forward from common patterns of immobilization that often is experienced by victims of or witnesses to traumatic events.   This means, rather than turning inward or self-soothing via means that disengage ourselves from our bodies (drinking, drugs, excessive eating, zoning out in front of the TV), our body can be an expressive vehicle utilized as an active resource to processing feelings.

Studies have shown that dance, in particular, can decrease anxiety and boost mood more than other physical outlets. In a study at the University of London, researchers assigned patients with anxiety disorders to spend time in one of four settings: a modern-dance class, an exercise class, a music class, or a math class.  Only the dance class significantly reduced anxiety.

Why Do You Dance?

Why dance, in particular?  Why should you dance?  Why would dance be a vehicle to cope with daily stress or even horrific tragedies such as the Oklahoma tornado, the Boston Marathon explosions, or the Newtown School shootings? Perhaps this is based on the specific distinction that dance in itself is innately an expressive art form, not just a physical release of body tension alone.

Dance/movement therapists have long known the expressive nature of dance dating back to the effects of post traumatic stress victims from World War II.  Dance/movement therapy pioneer, Marian Chace, discovered back in the 1940s that her patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder were able to use dance therapy as a form of communication that assisted in the decrease of tension held in the body and minimized isolation.  Dance/movement therapy, according to the American Dance Therapy Association, is based on the core belief that there is a fundamental interconnection between mind and body and what happens to the body can effectively influence the mind and vice versa. Dance/movement therapists are trained clinicians specializing in the interconnection between mind and body.  The core premise lies within the therapeutic relationship where movement is the primary mode of connection, assessment and intervention.

In a Korean study at Wonkwang University with adolescents engaging in dance/movement therapy for 12 weeks, results suggested that participation in dance/movement therapy may stabilize the sympathetic nervous system and improve psychological distress in adolescents with depression.

Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) finds release through dance in 'Heart Song'.

Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) finds release through dance in ‘Heart Song’.

In Heart Song, our current production at the Fountain Theatre, the main character Rochelle is battling a life crisis. Grieving the loss of her mother, she is lost and emotionally paralyzed. Her friend Tina, declaring “the mind, body and spirit are all connected”,  drags Rochelle to a flamenco class. It is there, through the powerful dance movement and self-expression of flamenco, that Rochelle begins to open up and release some of the long suppressed trauma of her barren relationship with her mother. Dance is the vehicle through which Rochelle finds freedom and release.

Do you dance?  Why? How does dance move you?

Heart Song May 25 – July 14  (323) 663-1525  MORE

The Fountain’s ‘Heart Song’ gives voice to flamenco’s depths

Maria Bermudez in 'Heart Song'.

Maria Bermudez in ‘Heart Song’.

Choreographed by Maria Bermudez, Stephen Sachs’ dance-theater hybrid explores the deep well of emotions that the art form can stir up.

By Susan Josephs

Two years ago Stephen Sachs began working on a play about the philosophy and practice of flamenco. He figured he had all the material he needed, having spent years in close proximity to flamenco dancers as the co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre, home of the long-running performance series “Forever Flamenco!” But after further research, he realized that the Spanish art form intertwined deeply with certain existential preoccupations that also inhabited his writer’s mind.

Stephen Sachs

Stephen Sachs

“The older I get, the more aware I have become of the loss of loved ones, the time in front of me and how I’m spending it. You start to wrestle more with these things,” observes the 53-year-old playwright and director.

Sachs wound up writing “Heart Song,” a uniquely theatrical hybrid that premieres May 25 at the Fountain and pays tribute to flamenco through the lens of one Jewish woman’s midlife crisis. Directed by Los Angeles theater veteran Shirley Jo Finney and choreographed by the flamenco artist Maria Bermudez, it stars Pamela Dunlap as Rochelle, a fiftysomething New York City denizen who struggles over her mother’s recent death and gets dragged to a flamenco class for nonprofessional dancers by her Japanese American masseuse Tina (Tamlyn Tomita).

Convinced that “Jews don’t do flamenco,” Rochelle receives encouragement from fellow class-taker Daloris (Juanita Jennings), an African American cancer survivor, and reluctantly encounters Katarina de la Fuente, the fierce, Gypsy flamenco teacher played by Bermudez. (Denise Blasor will take over the role after June 15.) Katarina teaches her students how to stomp their feet, flick their wrists and fully express themselves so they can experience the heightened spiritual state known as duende. She also waxes poetic about flamenco’s origins, the shared history of persecution between Gypsies and Jews and the cante jondo, the “deep song” born from suffering and oppression.

Eventually, Katarina’s teachings infiltrate Rochelle’s psyche so that she can grieve and confront the truth of her mother’s legacy.

“What interested me in this whole subject was how art, like religion or any spiritual faith, has the power to transform and heal,” says Sachs, who recently lost his mother and still “wrestles with that loss. I wanted to explore how flamenco can give voice to what is beyond the spoken word, to that deep inner well of sorrow and pain and also joy.”

Deborah Lawlor

Deborah Lawlor

Sachs’ treatment of flamenco, filled with historical and literary references, also feels distinctly educational. This should come as no surprise when considering that the Fountain’s co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor has produced the city’s preeminent flamenco series for some 20 years. “Heart Song,” however, takes the Fountain’s outreach efforts one step further with its potential to simultaneously attract the theater’s two main audiences: traditional playgoers and flamenco fans.

“I don’t think any production has yet explained flamenco as well as ‘Heart Song’ does,” says Lawlor, who served as the play’s dramaturgical consultant and will be honored on June 15 in a “Forever Flamenco!” gala performance at the Ford Theatres in Hollywood. “The play really shows the range of flamenco and its tragic dimensions, which you don’t find in other dance forms.”

Bermudez, who lives in southern Spain and travels all over the world to perform flamenco, agrees that the Fountain’s production “is very unique. In Spain, there have been mountings of flamenco story ballets, but no one has created a drama about flamenco in this way with actors,” she says.

As the show’s choreographer, Bermudez faced the challenge of crafting movement that everyone in the eight-member cast could perform while accurately reflecting flamenco’s essence. For her, casting definitely proved critical.

Maria Bermudez

Maria Bermudez

“One of the mistakes I’ve seen with dance-theater is to have the dancers act or have the actors dance. This is totally detrimental to both genres,” says the 51-year-old flamenco artist. “So I said, ‘Let’s get actors with movement experience and I will create a choreography for them that’s accessible, so they can be these middle-aged people who are there to connect with something interior rather than with an exterior aesthetic.”

At a recent rehearsal, Bermudez’s choreography seemed to function almost as another character in the play, especially during the scene in which Rochelle first visits the flamenco class. As Katarina, Bermudez conducts a class warm-up, instructing her students to lift their arms, “touch the stars” and twirl their wrists, a motion that becomes an effective unison phrase.

Both as choreographer and performer, Bermudez has the task of conveying the flamenco class as a sacred space where women of all backgrounds can unleash their demons as a means of liberating their spirits. “For me, flamenco is about this universal cry, whether you are Jewish or African American, it is the same,” she says in a phone conversation after the rehearsal. “Pain has no color or creed.”

Shirley Jo Finney

Shirley Jo Finney

The notion of flamenco’s universal accessibility has always resonated with Finney, who collaborated with Bermudez a decade ago on developing a still unproduced, flamenco-based play called “Cry,” which sought parallels between flamenco and the blues. “What I love about ‘Heart Song’ is that it shows how interconnected we all are. Often women’s plays are very ethnic-specific, but in this piece, you see these different tribes and how they become a collective,” she says.

Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) takes her first flamenco class.

Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) takes her first flamenco class.

For Finney and her cast, the process of practicing flamenco combined with excavating the life and death themes in Sachs’ script has made for an intensely emotional experience. “In the cast we have cancer survivors, we have people who just lost their mothers,” observes Finney. “We rehearse some of these scenes and I have to say, ‘OK ladies, we got our cry. Now we have to stop and work on the script.’ Mothers and daughters, survivors and life, these have been our discussions.”

Dunlap, for example, can fully relate to Rochelle’s reckoning with her mother’s death. “The relationship with her mother was barren and the relationship I had with my mother was difficult,” says the actress, who can also be seen on “Mad Men” as Betty Draper’s formidable mother-in-law. “It is not infrequent for a play to strike a personal chord with its actors, but in this play … we are blown away by material which touches our personal lives.”

Ultimately, Sachs hopes his play and its many layers of meaning will find a “crossover audience. It would be wonderful if all our audiences came together for a shared experience,” he says. “Hopefully, it will open people’s eyes to what flamenco really is and maybe they will want to take a class themselves.”

Susan Josephs writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Heart Song May 25 – July 14 (323) 663-1525  MORE

In New Comedy/Drama ‘Heart Song’, Middle-Aged Women Find Faith and Sisterhood in Flamenco Class

Postcard front rough mockupJews doing flamenco? Instead of ‘Ole!’ the crowd shouts Oy vey?’” – Rochelle in “Heart Song”

Three friends embark on a joyous journey of sisterhood, discovering their inner ‘duende’ through a flamenco class for middle-aged women. Heart Song, the newest comedy/drama from Stephen Sachs (Bakersfield Mist, Cyrano), opens at The Fountain Theatre on May 25 with Shirley Jo Finney (In the Red and Brown Water) directing and choreography by internationally renowned flamenco dancer Maria Cha Cha Bermudez.

Pamela Dunlap stars as Rochelle, a middle aged Jewish woman struggling with a crisis of faith. When Tina (Tamlyn Tomita) convinces her to join a flamenco class for “seasoned” out of shape women, Rochelle’s life is changed forever. There, she meets Daloris (Juanita Jennings) and an unforgettable circle of women (Andrea Dantas, Mindy Krasner, Elissa Kyriacou, Sherrie Lewandowski and Norma Maldonado) who propel Rochelle on a hilarious and deeply moving course of unexpected self-discovery.

Heart Song is funny but also allows me to explore serious issues about faith, spirituality and mortality that are deeply personal to me,” says Sachs. “The play dramatizes how art, in the form of flamenco — like religion or spiritual faith — has the power to heal and transform.”

“Flamenco is a life-saver for these women,” explains Finney. “It’s about duende, finding the deeper soul, unearthing that deep inner voice that lives inside us and can heal our inner wounds.”

The Fountain Theatre, recipient of critical acclaim and multiple awards for its theater productions, is also L.A.’s foremost presenter of flamenco. The Fountain’s monthly “Forever Flamenco!” series was created by co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor, who acts as consultant on this production.

“This is the perfect opportunity to marry the Fountain’s two audiences,” says Lawlor. “With Heart Song, we celebrate both our dedication to creating and producing new plays, as well as our longtime passion and commitment to the art of flamenco.”

Tamlyn Tomita, Pamela Dunlap, and Juanita Jennings

Tamlyn Tomita, Pamela Dunlap, and Juanita Jennings

Set design for Heart Song is by Tom Buderwitz; lighting design is by Ken Booth; sound design is by Bruno Louchouarn; costume design is by Dana Woods; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; casting is by Cathy Reinking; production stage manager is Corey Womack; and assistant stage managers are Mitzi Delgado and Terri Roberts. The Fountain Theatre production marks its world premiere. A second production will take place at Florida Rep in 2014.

Stephen Sachs’ other plays include Cyrano (2012 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award), Bakersfield Mist (2012 Elliot Norton Award for Best New Play, optioned for London’s West End and New York), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, LADCC and LA Weekly Award nominations), Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist; Back Stage Garland award for Best Play), Mother’s Day, The Golden Gate (Best Play, Drama-Logue), and The Baron in the Trees. His play Sweet Nothing in my Ear (1997 PEN USA Literary Award finalist and Media Access Award winner for Theater Excellence) has been produced in theaters around the country and was made into a TV movie for CBS starring Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. Open Window (2005 Media Access Award winner for Theater Excellence) had its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Shirley Jo Finney received the LADCC award for her direction of In the Red and Brown Water at the Fountain, where she also directed award-winning productions of From the Mississippi Delta, Central Avenue, Yellowman and The Ballad of Emmett Till. Her work has been seen at the McCarter Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, LA Theater Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, American College Theatre Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa, where she helmed the South African opera, Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. Ms. Finney has been honored with Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Back Stage Garland, LA Weekly and NAACP awards. For television, she directed several episodes of Moesha, and she garnered the International Black Filmmakers ‘Best Director’ Award for her short film, Remember Me. In 2007 she received the African American Film Marketplace Award of Achievement for Outstanding Performance and Achievement and leader in Entertainment.

Pamela Dunlap (Rochelle) has performed at Lincoln Center, New York Theatre Workshop, New York Stage and Film and Circle Repertory Company. On Broadway: Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, Redwood Curtain, Yerma. Off Broadway: Early Girl, Sacrifice to Eros, Green Card. L.A. theatergoers have seen her at the Mark Taper, Ahmanson, South Coast Rep and L.A. Theatre Works. Regional theater includes Theatre Raleigh, Pioneer Theatre, St. Louis Repertory, Hartford Stage, Arena Stage, Pittsburgh Public Theatre and Corpus Christi Symphony. She is the recipient of an OOBR Award, an honoree of the New York Drama League, and a three-time Drama-Logue Award recipient. Mad Men fans will recognize her as Pauline Francis, Betty Draper’s new mother-in-law with the questionable baby sitting skills. TV guest appearances include How I Met Your Mother, N.C.I.S., Law and Order SVU, and recurring as Gilda Rockwell on Commander In Chief. Pamela recently completed filming on Doll and Em for British TV, written, produced and starring Emily Mortimer. Film: The Changeling, directed by Clint Eastwood; I Am Sam; War Of The Roses; The Holiday; Sixteen To Life; and Mind The Gap.

Juanita Jennings (Daloris) is known to Fountain audiences for her portrayal of Aunt Ester in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and for her versatility in From the Mississippi Delta. She recently co-starred in South Coast Repertory’s production of Fences, and has also appeared at SCR in Jar the Floor (NAACP Theatre Award for Best Actress) and Twelfth Night. Other theater credits include productions at New York Shakespeare Festival, the Negro Ensemble Company, Mark Taper Forum, The Old Globe and Westwood Playhouse. Her many TV roles include Edna on the Tyler Perry series Meet the Browns and Dorothy Bascomb on The Bold and the Beautiful. She is a Cable Ace winner for her portrayal in the HBO mini-series Laurel Avenue.

Tamlyn Tomita (Tina) starred in the Fountain’s very first production, Winter Crane (Drama-Logue Award). Other stage work include The Square and Don Juan: A Meditation (Taper, Too), Summer Moon (Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre and South Coast Repertory), Day Standing on its Head (Manhattan Theatre Club) and Nagasaki Dust (Philadelphia Theatre Company). She is best known for the films The Day After Tomorrow, The Joy Luck Club and Karate Kid 2. Other film credits include Picture Bride, Come See the Paradise, Four Rooms, Living Out Loud and Gaijin 2. Soap opera followers know her as Dr. Ellen Yu on Days of Our Lives and Glee fans have seen her as Julia Chang.

Maria Bermudez (Choreographer) is one of the foremost flamenco dancers in the world today. Born in Los Angeles, she now resides in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, the “cradle” of flamenco. Her outstanding and critically acclaimed performances include The Hollywood Bowl, The John Anson Ford Theater, The Fountain Theater, The Los Angeles Music Center, and The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles, Central Park and The Joyce Theater in New York City, the Teatro  Palacio das Artes in Brazil, Pena Cernicalos, Los Gallos, and Teatro Lope de Vega in Spain, guest appearances with the Santa Cecilia California and numerous venues throughout the world. Most recently she formed Chicana Gypsy Project which draws on her Mexican-American heritage and her immersion into Gypsy culture. Her life and career has inspired the award-winning documentary film, Streets of Flamenco .

Housed in a charming two-story complex, the Fountain is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 200 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Highlights include In the Red and Brown Water (“Best in Theater 2012” – Los Angeles Times); Cyrano, an adaptation of the Rostand classic for hearing and deaf actors by Stephen Sachs (LADCC Award, “Outstanding Production”), a six-month run of Bakersfield Mist, also by Sachs, optioned for London and New York; the Off-Broadway run of the Fountain’s world premiere production of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances; and the making of Sachs’ Sweet Nothing in My Ear into a TV movie. The Fountain has been honored with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Los Angeles City Council for “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles.” The Fountain was recently honored with seven Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle including the Polly Warfield Award for Best Season 2012.

Heart Song opens on Saturday, May 25, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2 pm through July 14. Preview performances take place May 18-24 on the same schedule. Tickets are $34 (reserved seating), except previews which are $15. On Thursdays and Fridays only, seniors over 65 and students with ID are $25. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call 323-663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.