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Flamenco's Evolutionary Firebrand


Flamenco never has been a fixed traditional art form, but a changing one. "Each decade there's a new person who sets a new pace, a new style or does something innovative and different," flamenco dancer La Tania, in her 30s, said during a recent phone interview from San Francisco, taking a break from a tour that brings her to Irvine this weekend.

"I'm from the younger generation," she said, "so what I dance, what I like, what I try to bring, is what's happening now in flamenco." Still, she noted, her program at the Irvine Barclay on Saturday and Sunday--a co-production by the theater and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County--will show evolution as opposed to revolution.

"Really, it's traditional flamenco that I'm doing in the sense it's guitars, singing, dancing--pure flamenco, not using anything else. Sometimes the words 'flamenco nuevo' come up referring to me, which is not correct at all. I don't know how they come up. There's no 'new flamenco.' Flamenco is flamenco.

"The costumes are a little different than what a lot of people would expect," she continued. "There are no polka dots. There are no castanets. Of course, there never were any [in real flamenco].

"Basically my show, for Spain, is not unusual. Some people here find it different. But not many younger companies come to the West Coast from Spain."

La Tania grew up in Spain, having moved there at age 2 from Arles, France. Her mother was a flamenco dancer and, "I was raised in flamenco theaters. I developed my dancing career in Spain." She was 16 when Franco died in 1975, and she remembers the enormous political and artistic changes that ensued.

"Underground, flamenco had been changing." But the government had prevented it from being seen publicly. "Franco kept things very strict. His regime prohibited the Gypsy language, the Catalan language. A lot was kept underground, but it all exploded after Franco died."

For dancers, the explosion brought new exploration and incorporation of other movement styles and traditions. "Now," said La Tania, "most of the younger generation studies ballet, modern dance, a lot of different types of dance in pursuing a flamenco career.

"You still have a group of people who feel flamenco shouldn't be touched by anything else. But a lot of people take ballet because it prepares the body. It's important to know how to move, to be prepared for whatever comes up. But it's not good to overstudy other types of dance."

Her dance partner on the program, Andres Marin, incorporates other styles and "is very eccentric, but he's very flamenco," La Tania said. "He has plenty of duende [soul]. He does movements that could come from jazz or Balinese dancing. He just moves in a very specific, individual way that is not the typical image of the male flamenco dancer. His clothing is more contemporary too. But he was raised in flamenco. His parents were a flamenco singer and a dancer."

Occasionally La Tania loses patience with people who want to define flamenco. "Sometimes I laugh I when I hear that the true flamenco is when you get up and improvise. That's one part of it. There are many parts of it.

"All my life, I was around the Gypsies and the flamenco. I know what it is to get up spontaneously at a reunion or a wedding. But this is theater. The thing about improvisation--what does that really mean? I've seen people who supposedly are improvisers, but they do the same thing each time.

"To me, improvisation is a sense of timing, letting a moment happen for real, so that it is a truthful moment. That's improvisation to me, because you can't make up a whole section or something really complicated on the spur of the moment.

"But there is improvisation of expression, subtleties and moments that whether it's the same step or not, you can make special, whether improvised or not. You can take that to the theater if you try to maintain the pureness of expression and its meaning, its culture."

La Tania has been trying to establish a base for that culture in Northern California, in Willits, where she has been living for four years. "Dancing is all I know how to do," she said. "I love it. It's what I grew up with. I didn't go very much to school.

"In Spain, it's nothing strange to become an artist for a living. But a lot of people here are surprised that that's my profession. They ask, 'You don't do anything else?' "

* La Tania and her troupe perform Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive. Presented by the theater and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. $20-$25. (714) 854-4646.

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