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Innovator from Seville puts a Nijinsky-style spin on flamenco

August 15, 2003|Jennifer Fisher | Special to The Times

You can't get through a paragraph of press about Israel Galvan, one of the hot new innovators of the flamenco world, without hitting comparisons to the iconoclastic Russian dancer-choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. Such hyperbole can be tiresome, but the comparison became relevant as the stunningly fresh Compania Israel Galvan made its first local appearance Tuesday night as part of the ongoing New World Flamenco Festival at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

Like Nijinsky, Galvan grew up in a dancing family (he's from Seville in southern Spain) and mastered impressive technical skills. More important, his choreography opens doors that take flamenco into new territory.

Not that the break is as radical as Nijinsky's. In a program called "Maquina Vieja" (Old Machine), you got plenty of swift, rhythmic footwork, as well as flamenco's core gestures and vital attack. But you also got a walk on the postmodern side, in that Galvan slices and dices expectations. For one thing, some rough edges showed, from the exposed backstage of the first act to the casual demeanor of performers and onstage musicians to danced surprises and even awkwardness -- an odd hunker or slouch, some footwork that turned into trembling, an everyday walk, a cupped hand hovering overhead.

Galvan's fellow dancers -- his sister Pastora and La Fani (Stephanie Fuster) -- wore sleek versions of traditional costumes and often swept into familiar steps to comforting rhythms. But something unexpected always kept the viewer alert. Sometimes, it was just the dropping of the masterfully moody flamenco personality and the sight of restless limbs, hips and shoulders straying from regular routes.

In his own dancing, Galvan likes to search for non-sequitur gestures, as if trying to think new thoughts; he also adds electronically altered guitar recordings to the mix occasionally. For him, florid emotion is no longer a unified concept but a fragmented puzzle, on one occasion showing up in dissonant overlapping guitar rhythms and singing. Each unexpected event tended to place familiar flamenco dancing in high relief so that you saw it anew.

Galvan's two solos skillfully knitted together diverse influences, especially a jazzy get-down impulse. In "Trilla," a brilliant first act duet with Pastora, both fell into long silences, looking confused, dissatisfied or existentially blank. Then they'd find sudden solidarity in unison footwork. Once, stunningly, they became Nijinsky's famous faun and nymph, clearly imitating the flattened, angled walk of the Russian's 1912 "Afternoon of a Faun," suggesting the anguish of being different and searching for new forms.

In her solos, Pastora dug into slightly more traditional choreography with elegant gusto and an impressively rhythmic mobility of torso and hips. La Fani showed appealing musicality and lyrical phrase-making in hers. Two superb singers, Jose Anillo and David Lagos, traded duties throughout "Maquina Vieja," and guitarists Miguel Iglesias and Alfredo Lagos (also listed as composer and arranger) supported ably.

Altogether, it felt like a salutary way to further flamenco in the new millennium.

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