Watching Soul Encounters: Flamenco Meets Jazz featuring the dancers of Furia Flamenca and music performed by the jazz trio Unit Three was an enjoyable way to spend my Sunday. The fusion of flamenco and live jazz was an generous outpouring of spontaneous, sustainable energy that the crowd enthusiastically enjoyed.
Unit Three includes pianist and composer Antonio Truyols, drummer Daniel Faust, and bassist Joseph Dickey, all playing masterfully and with great passion. Estela Vélez de Paredez, the choreographer and Artistic Director of Furia Flamenca, is featured with smiling, spirited dancers Chisato Edwards, Alex Gromyko, Morgan Heyer, Tammy Lemley, Sarah Martin, Sylvia Melecio, Mariana Osorio, Daniel Paredez, Lauren Raivel, Margarita Kofalt, Karina Valverde, and Amy Weishampel. The crisp, soulful stylings of flamenco guitarists Paul Villmoare and Maestro Torcuato Zamora, singers Alma Rodriguez Céspedes and Jorge Porta, percussionist Hector “Coco” Barez, and palmistas Katherine Page. These elements all intertwine to produce an hour of pleasant entertainment.
The opening number, Regocijo begins with the four flamenco musicians against a red backdrop playing invitingly. The flamenca women enter and gather into line formations onstage, wearing fringed gray shirts and black skirts. Their smiles say it all, and the crowd claps and cheers. They change formations to two lines and the lights create large windows for them. As the technique of some of the dancers is still in development, it is quite enjoyable to see. Alma Rodriguez Céspedes has a sultry, clear voice that resonates as the music swells. The next movement, Zorongo Gitano y Bulerías, is one of my favorites. Lights up on a Zamora with his guitar, head down, wearing a mysterious black brimmed hat. For an artistic touch, the piano reflects onto the colorful background. He plays seductively, with wild finger picking as the tempo speeds up and Barez and Page clap and play with passion. The dancers enter for Fuerza y Pasíon carrying chairs and wearing red neckties, black hats, vests, and flowy skirts. I loved the use of levels in this piece, as some of the women used the chairs to dance and some stood tall. The choreography calls for many complicated changing directions, and intense concentration is demonstrated by the women and the featured male dancer Daniel Paredez. Though his balance was slightly off at one part he came through with vigor, and the crowd was very enticed by him. His footwork, including stomping and staying within a tightly contained space for quite some time, brought the house to enthusiastic applause!
On a Slow Boat to China by Henry Loesser as performed by Unit Three has a classic, timeless, big band feel that I adored. I wanted to dance a two-step right then. Their sound is smooth, professional, live perfection with swing. We are then transported to a warm beach scene, with the sound of waves and birds and the piano fluttering and symbols rumbling. The music swells into a romantic theme for Un Romance and the dancers enter with yellow and purple fans, in vibrant floral skirts and bright pink shirts. The choreography with these fans was flirtatious and fun and the footwork in connection with the arms, wrists, and head were relaxed and free. Estela Vélez de Paredez enters in a gorgeous green floral skirt with a soft green fan and flirtatiously dances with it. One of my favorite moments was when she saw Daniel Paredez and whistled to the audience with satisfaction. He performs a solo and invites her to join, and when she does with no hesitation the heat rises! She swirls her skirt when dancing and they’re having a grand time. It is quite evident how much Estela Vélez de Paredez loves dancing with Daniel Paredez, as they are really involved as a pair and she ends up in his arms. At the same time, the audience is completely engaged and many members join in with shouts of encouragement and praise, “Ole!” The lights lower and a soft pink background illuminates Alma Rodriguez Céspedes as she serenades us with her strong, silky voice during Alegrías. The couple sitting in front of me cuddled together sweetly during this song.
During Sangre y Fe by Unit Three, there were great instrumental riffs by Truyols and Faust that brought eager applause from the house and the three musicians jammed together in perfect sync. Dickey held the bass line steady with strong rhythms and Barez added the complicated percussion with style. I’d love to listen to an entire album by Unit Three. For the big finish, the great choreography in Encuentro embodies the spirit of flamenco dance, with a striking intensity and flair. The women enter with beautiful shawls that they coordinate twirling and dancing with especially tricky choreography that although the stomping is sometimes off rhythmically as a group, adds oomph to the finale. The audience even gave a standing ovation at the end. Based on the spirit embodied here today, I am looking forward to seeing more performances by Furia Flamenca hopefully in conjunction with Unit Three in the future.
Soul Encounters: Flamenco Meets Jazz played March 3, 2013 at INTERSECTIONS at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H St NE , in Washington, DC. Tickets for upcoming Intersections shows can be purchased online. For more information about , visit their website.