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'Romeo and Juliet' Gets Dash of Spanish Gypsy Soul : Dance: Artistic director says troupe will get to the heart of flamenco during its debut in Orange County on Thursday.


COSTA MESA — The details may differ a bit, but there's Romeo, there's Juliet and there's reason to bring a hankie to Teatro de Danza Espanola's rendition of the classic.

"We don't follow the exact same plot that Shakespeare did," said the flamenco troupe's founder, who goes only by the name Luisillo. "But our ballet is about two rival families and love between a boy and a girl that brings tragedy."

" Luna de Sangre (Blood Moon)" is one of two works the 32-year-old company from Madrid will stage Thursday in its first appearance here and the first performances ever sponsored jointly by the Orange County Philharmonic Society and the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Luisillo, 68, who is the Teatro's artistic director and choreographer, created "Luna de Sangre" three years ago and has cast his 24-year-old daughter, Maria Vivo, in the leading female role. During a recent phone interview from Oakland, where the widely traveled troupe was beginning its second tour of the United States, he said he has passed onto her the lessons he learned as a disciple of one of Spain's great flamenco masters, Carmen Amaya.

"Maria makes a very beautiful interpretation," Luisillo said, stressing that in flamenco "heart" rules over technique. "What makes somebody a great artist is what you have inside."

Indeed, flamenco was created by Andalusian Gypsies as a passionate expression of the profound grief they felt as itinerant yet deeply proud outcasts, disdained by a society that had branded them uneducated and immoral ("Luna de Sangre" is subtitled "Chronicle of a Gypsy Love").

Two guitarists and two singers ( cantaors ) will accompany Vivo and the company's 22 other dancers. But, as Luisillo noted, most of the "music" is made by the dancers' loud, percussive foot stomping and hand-clapping. Castanets are used minimally during the second piece on the program, "Cafe del Puerto."


Named after a fictional cafe in the city of Puerto de Santa Maria, it is a plotless, lighthearted, improvised celebration of dance.

"Flamenco is a little bit like jazz," Luisillo said. "You have a theme and the singers start singing, then the dancers get involved, and together they develop the theme." The piece includes a dance-off between principals Daniel Fernandez and Mariano Cruceta.

These days, professional flamenco companies and soloists fill large concert halls and small cafes alike, but originally flamenco strictly was a private affair, said Luisillo, who has been choreographing works incorporating a variety of Spanish folk dance forms for more than 40 years.

"The Gypsies came to Spain in 1499, and flamenco used to be performed only between them. They used to sing and dance in their homes, never outside. Then late in the last century, schools for (other types of) Spanish dancing opened in Seville and the flamenco dancers came there and started singing and dancing for the public."

Elaborate stage presentations can "adulterate" flamenco, he acknowledged. But, he added, they still can "represent flamenco in the purest form" and are as valid artistically as any symphony based on a traditional folk air.

"A composer takes a folkloric theme and converts it into a symphony with a full orchestra. With flamenco, you add feeling, lighting, costumes, decor--naturally trying to keep the theme pure, but giving the work the necessary projection to convert it into a work of art."

* Teatro de Danza Espanola performs Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $13 to $35. (714) 556-2787.

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