Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco dancer Rocío Molina

Flamenco Dancer Rocio Molina at the 2012 Jerez Flamenco Festival – comment by Brook Zern

Flamenco Dancer Rocio Molina at the 2012 Jerez Flamenco Festival – comment by Brook Zern

I am constantly shocked by how little I know about flamenco dance today.  Add the fact that I don’t have a good eye for dance, and you can see why I rarely comment on dance performances.

Well, I saw Rocío Molina in the Villamarta Theater in Jerez the night before last, and as always, I first listened to what my designated dance mavens said about it.

This time, they were wrong.  Not only that, but I was right.

Here’s the story:  I saw the woman who may be the world’s greatest dancer in any idiom, working at the top of her game, dancing a bunch of flamenco forms.  No one can ask for any more than that.

But the dance people I talked to weren’t satisfied, because they didn’t like the fact that the stage was dark, the dancer wore black, and the theme or mood – to the extent that I could grasp the strange language that is dance – was negative, troubled, and unhappy.

What the heck are they thinking?  Who are they to decide that a great artist – the finest in their chosen field – should wear cheerier colors, and smile at them, and leave the audience with an optimistic and uplifting feeling that all is right with the world?

That’s absurd.  It is not for us mortals to decide that Goya’s terrifying late-life black paintings, slathered on plaster walls in a frenzy of despair, needed some brightening up, or that Picasso should have added a nice dash of cerise to the eviscerated horse in Guernica.  If anything, I believe that art which stares unflinchingly at death and despair gets extra points rather than demerits.

And that’s about art in general.  Now, flamenco is a special case.  Flamenco – and this is the dirty little secret it shares with blues, and which elevates both arts from the realm of international folklore to the stratospheric realm of great art – is about death.

Okay, okay, of course we’re not talking about the alegrías [translation: joys] or the bulerías [jokings around].  We’re talking about the few core forms that give the art its center of gravity:  the soleá, the siguiriyas and the unaccompanied martinetes and its relatives.  The theme at the heart of flamenco is desolation and despair – yet another reason why so few people like the art form in its fullest dimension.

Rocío Molina is a dancer who is beyond category.  That was indicated by Spain’s decision to give her the National Prize for the Danza – the Dance – and not the National Prize for the Baile – the Flamenco Dance.  More importantly, it was proven by Mikhail Baryshnikov’s response to Rocío Molina’s art: He fell on his knees, and kissed her hand, or her foot, or both, according to the storyteller.

What was the phrase that Abraham Lincoln used in another context – oh, yes, “beyond our poor power to add or detract”.

I can’t comment on the fine points of dance, but once in a while the basic facts are so obvious – I once saw Nureyev dance in the bull ring of Barcelona, and didn’t need to second-guess my response – that you just have to quit quibbling.

Personally, I would rather watch the traditionalist Manuela Carrasco on a good night doing what some foolish people call “her same old soleá” than watch the difficult and disturbing art of Rocío Molina.  But that doesn’t alter the fact that when Rocío Molina dances actual flamenco, she honors the art.

I can’t believe that some serious dance people choose to focus on her choice of moods, much less her choice of lighting or colors or costumes.

A few years ago I was driving past a group of pickets outside a Ralphs’s supermarket in Los Angeles.  My six-year-old passenger asked what was happening, and I tried to explain the struggle for worker’s rights amid the growing wave of union busting.  He wasn’t buying my explanation.

“Why can’t they just be happy with what they have?” he asked.

Dance people, don’t be distracted by details.  You have Rocío Molina.  Be happy with what you have.

Brook Zern


March 7, 2012   1 Comment