Forever Flamenco, the Fountain Theatre’s sizzling hot signature flamenco series, moves to the Fountain’s new outdoor stage for three, 3-night weekend events at the end of July, August and September: July 30 through Aug. 1; Aug. 27 through Aug. 29; and Sept. 24 through Sept. 27, with all performances beginning at 8 p.m.
Boasting some of the best-known, most highly respected flamenco performers in Southern California as well as special guests from New Mexico, New York and Spain, each performance will be directed by a different artist.
The first performance of the summer, on Friday, July 30, will be directed by bailaora (dancer) Lakshmi Basile “La Chimi” (pictured above.) A tribute to the late cantaor (singer) Jesús Montoya, the evening is sub-titled Pinceladas Escandalosas (“Scandalous Brush Strokes.”) Featured artists include cantaors Antonio de Jerez and Reyes Barrios; guitarristas (guitarists) José Tanaka and Kambiz Pakan; and special guests David Castellano, Laura Castellano and Cristina Moguel of “FlamencoFlavor,” direct from New York City.
Subsequent performances will be directed by Vanessa Abalos (Aug. 1); Reyes Barrios (Aug. 28); Ethan Margolis (Aug. 29);Fanny Ara(Sept. 24); Alexandra Rozo (Sept. 25); and Antonio Triana (Sept. 26), with specific line-ups to be announced.
The Fountain Theatre has been presenting authentic, heart-pounding, Gypsy flamenco dance and music since its founding in 1990, under the auspices of theater co-founder and then co-artistic director Deborah Culver (a.k.a. Lawlor). Forever Flamenco was inaugurated as a series in 2003, with the Fountain quickly becoming L.A.’s go-to venue for the art form. The Los Angeles Times calls Forever Flamenco “the earth and fire of first-class flamenco.” The series is currently produced by longtime Fountain associate producer James Bennett.
This spring, the Fountain built an outdoor stage in its parking lot in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Audiences have been enjoying performances under the stars since the June opening of the company’s Los Angeles premiere production of An Octoroonby Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Performances of An Octoroon are scheduled through Sept. 19.
Tickets to Forever Flamenco range from $40–$65. Seating will be socially distanced and masks required as mandated by the County of Los Angeles on the date of each performance. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles.To purchase tickets, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.
Fanny Ara in ‘Forever Flamenco’ at the Fountain Theatre.
by Victoria Looseleaf
The Spanish term for a heightened state of emotion and authenticity, “duende,” roughly translates to a single word, “soul.” It’s also the elusive ingredient at the heart of flamenco, the centuries-old art form whose Andalusian origins, while not completely known, are an exotic blend of Jewish, Arab, and Roma (also known as Gypsy) cultures. Commonly thought of as an art of suffering — and punctuated by fiery footwork, rhythmic hand clapping, and raspy-throated singing and guitar playing that can veer from sensuous to scorching — flamenco, when performed by true artists, not only has the power to exist in a profound and mystical place, but can be a transformational experience for an audience, as well.
Happily, amid the urban sprawl that is Southern California, there also happens to be a rather tight-knit community of flamencans that stretches from Los Angeles down through Orange County and into San Diego, with upcoming performances including the Melissa Cruz-directed “Forever Flamenco — Evocar” (L.A.’s Fountain Theatre, October 27); Lakshmi Basile (San Diego’s Café 21, the Gaslamp location, November 2); the Spanish superstar Farruquito (Segerstrom Center for the Arts, November 6; the Soraya in Northridge, November 9); and Ethan (Margolis) Sultry and friends (Fountain Theatre, November 24).
That said, the indisputable Godmother of the L.A. flamenco scene is Deborah Culver, who co-founded the 78-seat Fountain Theatre in 1990 with Stephen Sachs, and has been presenting flamenco concerts under the banner, “Forever Flamenco,” ever since. Dubbed “the earth and fire of first-class flamenco” by the Los Angeles Times, the series has been weekly, biweekly, or monthly, with Culver estimating that they’ve produced in excess of 500 unique performances over the years.
Culver said she was drawn to the dance for a number of reasons, first and foremost, that it’s a “great art. It’s compelling, it’s mind-blowing, it’s gorgeous, and we have some very good practitioners here [in L.A.]. I danced it, too, of course, but really, I respect the pros.
“Throughout my time producing Forever Flamenco,” added Culver, “I have seen the community grow, mature, and exceed even my wildest expectations, and there are many dancers who are really pulling it off, who are really in tune with flamenco.”
The Fountain Theatre has also produced numerous flamenco concerts in conjunction with the Ford Amphitheatre, a bucolic, 1200-seat venue across the street from its much larger counterpart, the Hollywood Bowl. Olga Garay-English, executive director of the Ford Theatres since 2016, recently presented Olga Pericet, winner of Spain’s National Dance award in 2018.
“The Fountain Theatre really needs to be praised for being a stalwart with not a huge financial undergirding — I think that they really deserve a lot of credit,” noted Garay-English, who added that under her Ford tenure, they have co-sponsored three concerts with the Fountain, including Pericet’s.
“I thought that flamenco really deserved a larger stage in the greater L.A. area,” she added, “so the first season I booked it in 2017, we actually commissioned a flamenco floor, which is more percussive. I also think that flamenco is an extraordinary art form that has really deep roots and yet it has become an international language, so to speak. You really see people taking up the form in very diverse cultures because it speaks to people.”
Garay-English agreed with Culver that the L.A. flamenco community is thriving and growing. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — the more excellent flamenco that is available, the more people are interested in seeing the work. People are really thirsty for this caliber of flamenco.”
One performer who has been a fixture of the Fountain’s flamenco series is Los Angeles-based Briseyda Zárate. Born in Delano, California, and brought up by Mexican immigrants, she’s performed at the space for a decade and a half, either dancing with others or directing concerts at the venue with her troupe, Briseyda Zárate Ensemble.
Briseyda Zárate and ensemble | Credit: Sonia Ochoa
In addition to beginning her own series, Noche de Tablao, last January at L.A.’s Bootleg Theater, 44-year old Zárate, a flamencan with a feline presence and feet of fire, has also danced with L.A. Opera in productions that include The Barber of Seville and in last season’s zarzuela hit, El Gato Montés, as well as having choreographed for the company in operas such as Carmen. The dancer, who lives and works several months of the year in the cradle of flamenco, Sevilla, Spain, is nevertheless, wholeheartedly committed to L.A.’s flamenco community.
“It’s an art form that requires, obviously, community,” explained Zárate. “It also requires people who perform, audiences who go see the performers, students who want to learn, teachers who want to teach and not just steps, but the culture itself, through a way of life, a country, a specific part of Spain, though it’s all over the world. It’s about connecting at the very core of the art form — connecting in the moment to the singer, the guitarist, to yourself — and creating the magic that you give to the audience.
“Flamenco is also about the audience feeling something,” she continued. “Yes, flamenco can get really difficult technically, but at its core, it’s a very simple human thing, because it comes from such a deep historical place and a deep emotional place and the music, the dance, the song transmits that place and the artist, the “bailaora” — dancer — has to be able to transmit that. Not every artist does that. People who do it like a machine and depend solely on technique, in flamenco that will never fly. That will never suffice.”
To Zárate, duende is the spirit the dancer generates and is something akin to a ritual. “You’re creating it and it’s very special and not something that can be done by anybody. It takes obviously a lot of study, and technique is the gatekeeper to how you reach that sublime place. However, it’s just the gatekeeper — there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it in flamenco. You cannot base it solely on your technique or virtuosity. Maybe you can get away with that in other art forms, but not in flamenco.”
Someone known for possessing duende in spades is Farruquito, heir to one of the world’s most acclaimed Roma flamenco dynasties. Born in Sevilla in 1982 as Juan Manuel Fernández Montoya, Farruquito has been described by The New York Times’ Alastair Macaulay as “one of today’s superlative dance artists.” Carrying on the tradition of his grandfather, “El Farruco,” the electrifying performer first made an appearance on Broadway at age 5, and is bringing a pair of shows, “Farruquito Flamenco,” to the Southland.
No stranger to drama, Farruquito, a master of line, quicksilver footwork, and authoritative presence, was involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident, eventually serving three years in a Spanish prison for the crime. Released in 2010, Farruquito came roaring back, continuing his life’s mission to share the purest form of flamenco on stages around the world.
As to the debate of flamenco being more a matter of nature or nurture, of bloodlines or experience, Farruquito wrote in an email that it is “a little of each. Theory without practice does not achieve much. And if we are looking at it as an art form, I think you have to go much deeper into that world. If you are lucky enough to be born in a family that can give you that experience in exposure, you have to work even harder to make something out of what you are given.”
Farruquito also shared his thoughts regarding duende, writing that it “means being accompanied by a certain magic that allows one to transmit something special, intimate, and ever-fleeting while performing. But for that duende to grace us with its presence, we must lure it in with passion, dedication, respect, humility, and everything else that it rightfully deserves.”
Indeed, high-quality flamenco, whether strikingly presentational à la Farruquito or decidedly internal, thrives on immediacy and texture. It also requires top-notch musicians. With its distinct rhythms and outside influences also coming from Africa and the Middle East, there is a timelessness that exists at the heart of this music. Cleveland-born guitarist/composer/producer Ethan Margolis, 41, known as Ethan Sultry (Sir Sultry is his production company), moved to Spain to study the art of Roma flamenco guitar at 21, eventually moving to Los Angeles in 2010.
While in Spain, Sultry and dancer Cihtli Ocampo (now his wife), cofounded the erstwhile Arte y Pureza Flamenco Company (Art and Purity), an acclaimed troupe that toured Europe and the States for a number of years. Blending American and Spanish roots music into a jazz/flamenco hybrid, Sultry has created a style bursting with complex flamenco rhythms that stem from India — with some of the melodies having an Arabic character — while the dance form, he pointed out, is an expressive, improvisational one that was first shared by Roma families in their homes.
“People don’t realize that dance is not always at the root,” explained Sultry, “because in the Gypsy household, the flamenco dance form before it got on stage, was in someone’s house, at a party, around a campfire. It was very short, about 40 seconds long, then it was over. It was about the singing and the rhythm.
“It transformed into what we see now as 10, 15, or 20 minutes of dance that evolved to be put on a stage and sell tickets,” added Sultry. “I try to feature the dance, because it’s incredible, but there’s so many dance-heavy productions. Last year we presented shows that featured songs from Gypsy inheritors and none of them were commercial artists. They spent 400 years developing this stuff and no one knows who they are. I’m trying to help people understand that flamenco is like a work-song culture — they’re singing their sorrows out and it’s not all about fast footwork.”
Which isn’t to say that Sultry is not a fan of the dance. On the contrary, his November concert at the Fountain, “Sonikete Blues: Woodshedding,” will feature dancer Ocampo, vocalist Emi Secrest, cajón (box drum) player Ramón Porrina, as well as his Ethan Sultry Group, including Lee Ritenour’s upright bassist Ben Shepherd, and keyboardist Mitch Forman, who played with Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz, to name a few.
“The Fountain is great for flamenco,” said Sultry, “and it’s because of people like Deborah. Other than the Fountain being an intimate venue, it’s the people allowing and pushing for flamenco to happen. They lose money but keep going. They allow artists to come in, do their thing and leave. I can’t imagine that the Fountain has financially benefited much from flamenco because it’s a labor of love. And it’s not,” adds the musician,” like every city has a Fountain Theatre.”
Sultry, who has a rather astonishing YouTube video that features him playing Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” flamenco style, with his body-painted wife slinking around the stage, her arms raised with filigreed fingers slicing the air, has his own idea — no surprise — of what he deems duende.
“What I believe to be spirit — duende — is that [Spanish playwright Federico García] Lorca, who was a Gypsy-rights activist, put it out there as a term and ever since it’s been used all the time. It’s that sense of arriving at a real connection with the art form with your spirit. When he used the word,” added Sultry, “he was living within Gypsy circles, and he wasn’t just talking about a dancer. He was writing about their beauty, their sorrows, that’s where it came from. I believe he lived it and felt it, and once you know that, it’s hard to buy it in another setting.
“And while all art forms have a version of duende,” Sultry continued, “it’s the term within flamenco about arriving at this blissful place of spiritual expression that you can only get to if the elements of the form are true.”
Expressing her true self through haughty glances, an arched back and thrilling turns, California-born Lakshmi “La Chimi” Basile, 37, built her career in Sevilla, and currently lives in San Diego. Over the years she has performed throughout Europe and, at one point, had a company, Luna Flamenco Dance Company. A regular performer at the Fountain for years — having directed shows there, as well — Basile also danced on a weekly basis at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant in San Diego’s Old Town district in 2017.
Now working on a project-to-project basis, Basile, who was born to an Argentinean/Paraguayan mother and an American father with Czech roots, also teaches flamenco and runs her own show at San Diego’s Café 21. While patrons might be eating and drinking during her performances, Basile said she’s had no problem with that.
“It requires a lot of stamina, but I present my show in a way that makes them pay attention. It just depends on how you attack it — and you can be mindful. That show ended up turning into a mini-showcase and I had regulars come to see me, so I was happy with how that turned out.”
But did Basile have flashes of duende during any of those performances? The dancer explained: “Duende, I believe is something you’re born with or you can stumble upon it at any given moment. It’s not something you work on like a step — duende doesn’t work that way. It either comes or doesn’t come, you can’t control it. Some people have duende moments a lot because they can transmit with a lot more ease than others.
“Even the people that have duende moments,” added Basile, “they can’t have it whenever they want. It’s more of a thing that comes, although I do believe some are born with it. There are also excellent performers who don’t have that magical moment. It’s almost like a spiritual thing — you have to channel energy in a different way than just being mental about the steps.”
Enjoy these glorious photos by Bruce Bisenz capturing the passion and excitement of our Forever Flamenco concert on January 19 starring Lakshmi Basile and company. Featuring artists Lakshmi Basile, Pedro Cortes, Luis de la Tota, Jesus Montoya, and Jeff Pekarek. Produced by Deborah Lawlor and now in its 13th smash year, our Forever Flamenco series has established the Fountain the hottest flamenco venue in Los Angeles. Check out Bruce’s photos and see why!
Forever Flamenco! presents an All-Star Flamenco Weekend: Antonio Triana and Company on Jan. 17 and 18, featuring magnificent singer José Cortés (from Spain) and mesmerizing dancer Fanny Ara (born in France, trained in Spain); and Lakshmi Basileand Company on Jan. 19, featuring two guest artists – guitarist Pedro Cortés and percussionist and festero Luis de la Tota, who brings joy and fun to every show he’s in.
With only 80 seats in four rows, The Fountain Theatre is the perfect place to view Flamenco. Each show features a roster of world-class Flamenco dancers, singers and musicians drawn from the rich pool of Flamenco artists in Southern California, with additional guest artists brought from San Francisco, Albuquerque and Spain.
Friday, Jan. 17 at 8 pm and Saturday, Jan. 18 at 8 pm
Antonio Triana and Company
Guitarristas (Guitarists) – Gabriel Osuna, Antonio Triana
Cantaores (Singers) – José Cortés, Antonio de Jerez
Bailaores (Dancers) – Vanessa Albalos, Fanny Ara, Manuel Gutierrez
Sunday, Jan. 19 at 8 pm
Lakshmi Basile and Company
Guitarrista (Guitarist) – Pedro Cortés
Cantaor (Singer) – Jesus Montoya
Palmero/Cajonero (Percussionist) – Luis de la Tota
Celebrate the new year with vibrant new works from our friends and family. The Fountain opens her stage to 20 days of readings, workshops, and concerts from our growing community. Join us for fun, casual and engaging guest productions every weekend throughout all of January.
Sitting a few rows back from the stage at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre watching the Fountain Theatre’s monthly showcase of “Forever Flamenco!” this past Sunday, I was reminded of krump dancing. Let me explain. Since September I have been attending a krump session — a circle of dancers who congregate every Wednesday at midnight in a parking lot in North Hollywood — observing a style of dance that has its roots in South Central Los Angeles. If you saw Dave LaChapelle’s 2005 documentary Rize, you know what I’m talking about. If not, what brought me back to the after-hours dancing at the parking lot was the foot stomping (obviously), but more overwhelmingly, the emotional release the dancers wear on their faces and exhibit in their movements.
Krump dancers in the documentary film, "Rize".
Without knowing much about flamenco, I have gleaned enough to offer that the histories of the people who created both art forms are similar in enough ways to inspire movement of such emotional magnitude. Both African Americans and Gypsies are historically oppressed groups of people who have expressed their experience via their bodies. Every foot slam, hand clap and outstretch of an arm delivers you to a different memory. The feelings that overcome you may not be the same ones the dancers express, but they serve the same purpose: They make you feel alive and connect you with humanity.
A flamenco show is an all-over-body experience. The dancers’ faces contort with feeling, their arms gracefully strike controlled poses in the air, and their feet pound the stage like tap dancers. Even the costumes — with ruffles, wraps, polka dots, lace, hot pink flowers and long trains — get in on the dramatic action. Illuminating it all is the music, which preceded the dance.
Singer Jesus Montoya’s classically scruffy, aching, heart-wrenching vocals powered the night of flamenco. Accompanied by guitarist Juan Antonio Gomez and percussionist Gerardo Morales, the trio had a jolly good time throughout the performances, laughing and calling out to the dancers and each other. It was almost as if Montoya were trying to get the dancers to crack a smile.
But that’s one of the beauties of a flamenco show — the audience and band interaction. (Another wonder is the constant hand clapping, which seems to be an unspoken code I can’t figure out.) Not only do the musicians yell out encouraging words (most often, “Olé!”); audience members yell out snippets in Spanish whenever it strikes their fancy. After an especially emotional stomp, or long and fast footwork set, the audience and musicians erupt with pleasure.
The climax of the night came after Lakshmi Basile finished her solo, “Fondo del Mar (Depth of the Ocean) Solea.” Her performance appeared cathartic — for her and the audience — as if there were no end to her emotional release, or ours. Just when you thought a flamenco dancer has finished a performance, they rev back up for a little bit more. Basile’s exertion was so complete, one of her clips went flying out of her hair. Olé!
While at times the Barnsdall Gallery stage was swirling with somber, it was mostly a festive atmosphere. Ricardo Chavez, the long male dancer, looked like he stepped out of the pages of GQ. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the woman sitting behind me takes his class in Santa Ana.
At the end of the night, the performers invited anyone who wished to come up on stage and dance in a circle they had formed. Much like the krump session I attend weekly, this is a space that encourages improvisation and freestyle, where the dancers share moves and challenge and inspire each other. I’ve seen this done at tap shows too, and this spirit exemplifies dance communities at their best.
Last night at Forever Flamenco,Lakshmi Basile and the stellar company of fabulous guest artists sizzled and soared at the 300-seat Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Park. Lakshmi was joined by singer Jesus Montoya, guitarist Juan Antonio Gomez, percussionist Gerardo Morales, and fellow dancers Adriana Maresma Fois and Ricardo Chavez.
The large audience was loud, festive, and ready to party! They had a marvelous time, applauding wildly and shouting “Ole!” to the performers on stage throughout the swirling concert.
After the magic on stage, joyful celebration erupted back stage. Here’s a peak:
Dancer Ricardo Chavez and singer Jesus Montoya.
Dancer Adriana Maresma-Fois
Our next Forever Flamenco will be Sunday Feb 28 (323) 663-1525 Check our website for details.
The 9th Smash Year ofForever Flamenco kicks off with a sizzling blaze as dancer Lakshmi Basile “La Chimi” ignites the Gallery Theatre at Barnsdall Park on January 8th at 8pm. Other artists starring with Lakshmi are singer Jesus Montoya, guitarist Juan Antonio Gomez, percussionist Gerardo Morales, and dancers Adriana Maresma Fois and Ricardo Chavez.
A dancer of emotion, inspiration and precision, Lakshmi Basile “La Chimi“ captivates her audience with a unique yet familiar flamenco art. In late 2010 she won the finalist prize in the National Contest of Flamenco Art of Cordoba (Concurso Nacional de Arte Flamenco de Córdoba), “the contest of the contests,” and second prize in the Concurso de las Minas de La Unión en 2011. This accomplishment, unprecedented in the history of flamenco, left a track of surprising reactions: “…un desgarrador homenaje a los románticos de lo jondo…” (“…a heartwrenching homage to the romantics of classic flamenco…”), Alberto Garcia Reyes, ABC.
Lakshmi Basile’s remarkable ascent is no surprise considering her childhood and family history. Both of her parents are freelance performing artists. She grew up immersed in ethnic music and dance and it was natural for her to discover a career in flamenco. With her background in flamenco, classical, and contemporary dance Lakshmi Basile moved to Spain in 2002 from San Diego, California. In Santa Barbara, California, she choreographed and headlined with companies like the Pacific Action Dance Company. In Spain she studied with various master teachers such as: Los Farrucos, Angelita Vargas and Andres Marin. Her ever growing popularity left an impressive trademark in venues such as La Carbonería, Los Gallos, La Feria de Abril and other flamenco tablaos and peñas. Renamed within flamenco circles as “La Chimi”, she debuted in the Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla, 2004.
Though residing principally in Sevilla, Spain, Lakshmi returned to the United States to create her own company,Luna Flamenca Dance Company; self-producing shows such as Flamenco en la cocina, in 2006, and Trois, in 2007. In Sevilla, José Tarriño, the flamenco fashion designer, choose her as his top model for his 2007 collection. In 2008 she had an effervescent year; she participated again in the Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla, as a soloist in the series Peñas de Guardía. She appeared in the exposition for the famous photographer Ruvén Afanador. She performed in her first music video with the Lebanese director Rindala Kodeih, a piece which climbed to the top of the charts in Arabic-speaking countries. She was also elected to dance and close the performance at theConcurso Internacional de Cante de Puertollano 2008, where she performed for flamenco legends such as Carmen Linares and José de la Tomasa. In 2009 – 2010 Lakshmi continued to maintain her base in Seville, where she is sought out for in various venues such as the flamenco theater El Palacio Andaluz. There she is one of the featured star artists of the show, as well as with the seville-based group Sentir Flamenco, where she participated in the summer flamenco festival Noches en los Jardines de la Buhaira in 2010 and 2011. In the United States she produced the theater shows Claveles de Jerez and Flamencalicious presented in various cities within California.
An untiring worker, she continues to create dance in numerous forms; provoking “duende“(magic) with substantial mental and physical discipline. Her artistic versatility reaches all social orbits, from intimate gypsy flamenco parties, to professional theatres. She recently presented her first show in Spain, Zarabanda, and is foreseeing a 2012 tour.