Dancing for life

Emma Durden Dance in Durban

The Kwa-Suka Theatre, usually home to Durban’s experimental drama offerings, is currently awash with rich swirls of tangerine, pimento olive and deep wine. Camino Flamenco is an exuberant hour and a half of traditional Spanish dance put together by Linda Vargas of the Spanish Dance Company and her husband, the quick-fingered Demi Fernandez, head of the Jazz and Popular music Department at the Natal Technikon.

The music is toe-tappingly familiar and my companion for the evening, who lived in Spain for years, could barely stay in her seat. For all its incredible control of movement, flamenco dancing is all about spontaneity; and the set of brightly coloured chairs and flats draped with scarves sets the vibrant cantina scene that should be full of wine and song.

For many of the pieces, those that are not dancing sit, keeping the beat and the atmosphere alive, offering a sometimes shouted and sometimes muttered commentary on the dancers and the emotions that they portray.

The show offers 10 different dances, ranging from the sexual interplay of coquettish couples in Amor Coqueta to a full 11-person cast fin-fiesta, and including some superb solos. El Hombre showcases the strength of the male dancers in the company.

The footwork is fast and furious and the cleanliness of the moves leaves one wondering how on earth they manage to resist their own momentum. La Mujer - the essence of woman - moves from a gentle exploration of womanhood to an in-your-face statement. The dance is entrancing. Eyes adorned with exceptionally long false lashes flash with a fierceness that seem to say “this is me, I’m a woman, take it or fucking well leave it”. Startling stuff. Also worthy of mention is la Muerte - death- a moving and beautifully executed piece that almost makes Lorca’s tragedies seem a soap opera.

La Muerte is perhaps the most traditional of the dances. Flamenco developed in the gypsy communities of 16th Century Spain. Those that did not embrace Catholicism were threatened with expulsion from the country, and became a marginalised group living in extreme conditions. The dance form grew as a means of expressing their daily struggle for survival.

This sombre mood has changed somewhat over time, to embrace the joyous abandon that we see showcased in other pieces in the Camino Flamenco collection.

The performance takes us through a range of experiences, heightened by the rousing guitar and voice of Fernandez, and the clacking of the castanets that were unfortunately, in my view, used too little throughout the evening.

The movements themselves are a pretty

implausible mix. Take the hips of a snake, stampeding buffalo hooves, and the wings of a humming bird: add them together, and you get flamenco. There is also a recognisable Indian influence, in the classical hand gestures, and in strains of the music.

The choral nature of the performance also reminds one of traditional Zulu dance. It’s a spellbinding combination of the exotic and the familiar, and the opening night audience was left calling for more.

Camino Flamenco is on at the Kwa-Suka theatre in Greyville nightly until September 19

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