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Duende soars in ‘Forever Flamenco’ at the first-class Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood

Flamenco Fanny Ara 2018 FF

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).

Deb BDay 2014

Deborah Culver.

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.

Olga Garay-English

“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.

Farruquito

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.”

Ethan Margolis

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.

Cihtli Ocampo

“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.”

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Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning international arts journalist who covers dance, music, theater and the visual arts. 

NEW VIDEO: A backstage look behind the scenes of ‘Hype Man’ at Fountain Theatre

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VIDEO: What is hip hop?

What is hip hop? A genre of music? A style of clothes? A way of life? Take a look.

In this West Coast Premiere of HYPE MAN by Idris Goodwin, a hip-hop trio is on the verge of making it big on national TV when a police shooting of a Black teen shakes the band to its core, forcing them to confront questions of race, gender, privilege and when to use their art as an act of social protest. When the Hype Man takes matters into his own hands, the ensuing beef exposes the long-buried rifts of race and privilege that divide them. Will it tear them apart or can they find a way to still breathe together?

Written by Idris Goodwin. Directed by Deena Selenow. Starring Chad Addison, Matthew Hancock, Clarissa Thibeaux. Starts Feb 23.

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NOW CASTING: Award-winning West Coast Premiere ‘Hype Man’ by Idris Goodwin at Fountain Theatre

hype man flea 1

The Fountain Theatre is now casting for its West Coast Premiere of the award-winning new hip hop play, HYPE MAN by Idris Goodwin. The director is Deena Selenow

Audition Date(s): 01/11/2019 – 01/12/2019

Rehearsal Date(s): 01/21/2019 – 02/19/2019

Preview Date(s): 02/20/2019 – 02/22/2019

Opening Date(s): 02/23/2019

Closing Date(s): 04/14/2019

SPECIAL NOTE:

The role of VERB has already been cast.

Roles:

[PINNACLE]

Male, 30-35, Caucasian. The Rapper. A fierce and fiery white dude who grew up among African-Americans but remains an outsider and separates him from Verb. His swaggering confidence hides his confusion and inner conflict. Because has a cop in his family, he mourns the city’s recent police shooting but thinks the group should stay the course.

[PEEP ONE]

Female, 25-30, mixed race, a “woman of color” upon initial glance, however her specific ancestry is less obvious. The Beat-Maker. The crew’s dynamic and spirited newcomer who crafts the beats and produces their tracks. She yearns for artistic recognition, struggling to get heard musically in this testosterone-fueled world. Peep finds herself caught between competing loyalties as Pinnacle’s and Verb’s previously unspoken views on race threaten to destroy not just their shot at success but also their friendship.

STORYLINE:

A diverse hip-hop trio is on the verge of making it big on national TV when a police shooting of a Black teen shakes the band to its core, forcing them to confront questions of race, gender, privilege and when to use their art as an act of social protest. When the Hype Man takes matters into his own hands, the ensuing beef exposes the long-buried rifts of race and privilege that divide them. Will it tear them apart or can they find a way to still breathe together?

Rate of Pay / Contract: AEA 99-Seat Agreement

Email headshot/resume to: casting@fountaintheatre.com

Take a pill or see a play?

doctor writing prescriptionby Stephen Sachs

Need a cure for what ails you? Next time you see your doctor, the prescription he or she scribbles may surprise you: see a play.

Research is now proving that gathering with other people to see a play, listen to music or watch a dance concert not only heals the soul. It mends the body, as well.

Doctors generally prescribe pills to make people feel better. Yet the medical benefits of engaging with the arts are well-recorded. A first-of-its-kind study last year found that the social engagement of art is an effective way to improve the health and well-being of patients with such long-term conditions as asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, epilepsy, and osteoporosis—which often exacerbate symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.

Going to the theatre and being part of an audience, joining other human beings in a shared live experience, has medical benefits. Countless studies have found that social isolation takes a heavy toll on our well-being over time. One of the advantages of joining other theater-goers to see a play is that it reduces feelings of loneliness. Our daily lives in front of computer screens can be isolating. Attending live theatre boosts a sense of belonging and face-to-face human connectedness.

In January this year, the U.K. appointed Tracey Crouch to serve as its first “minister of loneliness” to explore how to combat the “sad reality of modern life”. According to a report last year from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, more than 9 million people in Britain—around 14% of the population—often or always feel lonely. The numbers are even higher in the United States. Cigna’s recent survey revealed 46% of Americans — nearly half the population.– report sometimes or always feeling alone.

“We should value the arts because they’re essential to our health and wellbeing,” says British Health Secretary Matt Hancock. “Access to the arts improves people’s mental and physical health. It makes us happier and healthier.”

The larger question we must ask ourselves is: What sort of society do we want? One that generates physical and emotional illness and then thrives on pharmaceuticals to put it right? Or a society that embraces a more holistic approach to public health through social responsibility and artistic engagement? Given the toxic state of our politics and the poisonous nature of our society and environment today, it is remarkable that we manage to keep going as we are. But for how long? The dilemma was raised by Samuel Beckett, once again, at the theatre, “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Witnessing a powerful play can illuminate what it means to be a human being and connect us to a larger and higher vision of ourselves. In his powerful account of his own holocaust experience, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl concludes that the ‘search for meaning is the primary motivation in life’. He describes lack of meaning as an ‘existential vacuum’, often manifesting as boredom, and invaded by numerous neurotic and addictive problems. He quotes Nietzsche:

‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.’

This echoes, of course, the eternal question posed by Hamlet: “To be, or not to be …”  This is how theatre triggers self-treatment. A theater-goer witnessing Hamlet’s struggle on stage is himself, from the audience, thrown into questioning the purpose of his or her own life. A great play, seen in the most public of settings, generates intimate self-examination and, at the same time, connects us to our fellow beings. Theatre is a journey inward and outward.

The arts play a critical role in the better health of our nation.  Not only spiritually and aesthetically — but physically, medically.  The arts, like health care, not only make life better — they make it livable. Congress seems to agree. Despite Trump’s call to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, Congress passed a 2019 budget increase of more than $2 million to the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Even with this modest 2019 budget increase in arts funding, the United States is writing a doctor’s prescription to itself. Politicians must learn to protect the NEA as fervently as they defend the Second Amendment.

More than guns, Americans have the right to bear arts.

Stephen Sachs in the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.

Piano man on Fountain Avenue

We put an old piano out front on the sidewalk hoping someone would take it. Instead, people in the neighborhood are playing it. This guy from NY was driving by, saw the piano on the sidewalk, got out of his car, and began to boogie.

Q&A with Fred Herko biographer following ‘Freddy’ performance Thursday Sept 28th

FREDDIE image 1 copy

Fred Herko

Audiences seeing the world premiere of the new theatre/dance work Freddy on Thursday night, September 28th, will enjoy an added treat when Fred Herko biographer Gerard Forde engages in a Q&A discussion immediately following the performance at 8pm in the Caminito Theatre at LA City College.  Freddy is written by Herko friend Deborah Lawlor, directed by Frances Loy, with dance/movement direction by Cate Caplin.

Set in 1964 Greenwich Village and based on a true story, Freddy blends theatre, dance, music and projected images to tell the tale of a naïve young woman who falls under the spell of Fred Herko, a brilliant ballet dancer of extraordinary charisma and talent and a fiery denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory.

Deb Gerard

Fred Herko biographer Gerard Forde and Deborah Lawlor

Gerard Forde is a curator, writer and translator. Over the past eight years he has been researching a biography of Fred Herko and a history of the New York Poets Theatre, founded in 1961 by Herko, Diane di Prima, LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka), Alan Marlowe and James Waring.

In 2014, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Herko’s death, he curated a week long program of events in New York, including an exhibition of photographs of Herko at the Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery and a symposium at NYU.

His recently published essays include ‘Plus or Minus 1961 – A Chronology 1959-1963’ in ± 1961: Founding the Expanded Arts, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2013; ‘Poet’s Vaudeville – The Collages of James Waring’, in James Waring, Galerie 1900-2000, Paris, 2013; and ‘Dramatis Personæ: The Theatrical Collaborations of Kenneth Koch, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle’, in Niki de Saint Phalle: At Last I Found the Treasure, Kunst- und Kulturstiftung Opelvillen, Rüsselheim, 2016.

Fred Herko (1936-1964) was a central figure in New York’s downtown avant-garde. A musical prodigy, he studied piano at the Juilliard School of Music before switching to ballet at the age of twenty. In 1956 he won a scholarship to study at American Ballet Theatre School and within a few years was dancing with established choreographers including John Butler, Katherine Litz, Buzz Miller, Glen Tetley and James Waring. He was a founding member of Judson Dance Theater, presenting six of his own works in the group’s concerts between 1962 and 1964 and dancing in works by Al Hansen, Deborah Hay, Arlene Rothlein and Elaine Summers. He was a co-founder of the New York Poets Theatre, which staged one-act plays by poets and provided a podium for happenings by Ray Johnson, Allan Kaprow and Robert Whitman; dances by Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown; music by La Monte Young, John Herbert McDowell and Philip Corner; and films by Brian De Palma, Stan VanDerBeek and Andy Warhol. Herko starred in seven of Warhol’s earliest cinematic experiments in 1963, including Jill and Freddy Dancing, Rollerskate/Dance Movie and Salome and Delilah. His untimely death in 1964, at the age of 28, robbed New York’s underground scene of one of its most exuberant and versatile performers who was equally at home performing Comb Music by Fluxus composer George Brecht or camping it up in Rosalyn Drexler’s musical comedy Home Movies.

 

Reserve Now for Freddy, Thursday, Sept 28 followed by Q&A with Gerard Forde

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‘Forever Flamenco’ at the Fountain starring Lakshmi Basile & Company this Sunday is Sold out!

Lakshmi Basile FF Feb 10

Forever Flamenco  Sunday, Feb 10th  (323) 663-1525   More 

‘Forever Flamenco’ Sizzles this Summer at the Fountain with ‘Cuadro’ featuring Briseyda Zarate

Briseyda Zarate

Our acclaimed series, Forever Flamenco, goes “back to basics” on Sunday, August 5th at 8pm at the intimate Fountain Theatre by presenting a Cuadro of flamenco artists: two dancers (the deep and soulful Briseyda Zarate and the brave, exciting Mizuho Sato), a singer (passionate Jesus Montoya), and a guitarist (master Flamenco artist José Tanaka), artists who have worked together for years and can feel each other’s every move and note. With only 78 seats in four rows, the Fountain is the perfect place to view flamenco. Each show features a roster of world-class 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.

Now in its 9th smash year and hailed as “LA’s most significant venue for Flamenco” by the LA Weekly,  Forever Flamenco is produced by Fountain Producing Director Deborah Lawlor.

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Forever Flamenco  Sunday, August 5th  (323) 663-1525   More Info