It starts with a bang. Literally - as Israel Galván knocks over a tall stack of aluminum chairs that crash onto the stage. Then he echoes the rhythms they've just made, with his feet. Thus does
La Curva (Twists and Turns)
, which closed the Philadelphia Flamenco Festival last weekend at Drexel University's Mandell Theater, announce its intentions. Ultimately, it's about rhythm, and the sounds this quartet of exceptional artists can wring from their voices and bodies, plus a wooden table, a leather jacket, a piece of duct tape.
La Curva is also full of references and homages - to the flamenco dancer Vicente Escudero, John Cage, Igor Stravinsky, Pina Bausch, even Groucho Marx. Luckily, audiences need not "get" these allusions. We can simply sit back and revel in the visual and aural spectacle that Galván creates, along with the soul-stirring flamenco singer Inés Bacán, the wickedly funny percussionist/dancer José Jiménez Santiago "Bobote," and avant-garde Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier.
But audiences do need to have open minds. Those expecting polka dots and guitars will be disappointed. In fact, some people wonder if this is flamenco at all. It is, but that may not be obvious - as Galván dances with a folding chair around his neck, scuttles about like a demented insect, or plays in a pile of flour. These aren't mere gimmicks; Galván uses that chair as a percussion instrument, and the flour lets him explore how flamenco boots sound on different surfaces. At its core, La Curva confirms Galván's love and respect for the twin pillars of traditional flamenco - cante (flamenco singing) and compás (rhythm). Besides, only a dancer thoroughly trained in traditional flamenco technique could do what Galván does. Not that anyone else could do what Galván does.
At its best, art makes us see the world in a new way. And, as I was leaving the theater, a young woman said to her friend: "I'm totally different, now!" Exactly so.