Classical Music Review: New Releases

Yaelisa and Caminos Flamencos. ODC Theater, San Francisco, California 21 July 2002.
1. Buleria de Jerez. 2. Solea Por Bulerias. 3. Pa Sevilla. 4. Rumba Flamenca 5. Tangos. 6. Solea. 7. Tangos. 8. Suenos de Fragua. 9. Tangos de Malaga. 10. Por Solea. 11. Fin de Fiesta. Seth Van Hankin and Jason "El Rubio" McGuire (music director) guitars.

I've always loved the power and drive of flamenco music, and so when I heard that Yaelisa and the Bay Area-based Caminos Flamencos were giving a dance concert I was thrilled. Carlos Saura's 1995 film Flamenco was intoxicating, but seeing this art form live, and in an intimate, cafe-style setting, was even better. Yaelisa's troupe is a spectacularly  accomplished one, which combines performers of Hispanic heritage -- the director, singer-dancer Patricia Velazquez, and Carlos Rafael -- with Americans of various ethnic origins. And though you'd think this would make for a watered-down version of flamenco, quite the opposite is true -- everyone here looked and sounded like they really felt what they were doing, and that's a wonderful thing, given that American culture values the head over the instincts, and the heart.

Saura's film showed the variety of forms which flamenco encompasses, and this concert did that too. It was also cannily planned -- each piece grew progressively more complex and intense. One saw and heard the different forms. One also felt their sympathies, and how their intensities, or emotional temperatures, varied. This is, after all, an art form about the extremities of the human heart -- love, desire, abandonment, revenge -- all the essential things.

The concert began with "Bulerias de Jerez", played on solo acoustic guitar by American Seth Van Hankin, who'd just returned from two years of study in Spain. Jerez was one of the three Andalusian cities where flamenco flourished, the other two being Cadiz, and the gypsy barrio, Triana, in Sevilla, and Van Hankin's performance of this form -- a buleria is generally fast and light -- sounded both evocative and authentic, with carefully controlled, and deeply expressive ornamentation. The "Solea por Bulerias", which followed, involved five female dancers -- Sandra Christensen, Linda Coombs, Gina Giammanco, Lea Kobeli, Veronica Schindler -- Seth Van Hankin, and singers Yaelisa and Rafael, so that all the elements of flamenco -- cante jondo (deep song), baile (dance), and guitarra guitar, were here, and, I must say, alive and definitely well. This was a rhythmically and texturally complex piece (melodic rhythmic patterns -- often in 12-count (beat) are frequently layered on top of each other as in raga, North African, and Near--Middle Eastern musical practice), and some of the dance changes were like instrumental breaks. "Pa Sevilla", which involved the company, was in a slower tempo, while "Rumba Flamenca" highlighted the the very intense singing of Kati Mejia, who had all the pungent dryness of this style down pat, and she was powerfully accompanied by highly accented palmas sordas (handclapping). Patricia Velazquez was also spectacular in "Tangos", and Yaelisa, Rafael, and other members of the company sang and danced frequently improvised, but carefully calibrated, solos. And the rhythmic complexity, and raw, yet infinitely subtle power of flamenco never ceased to dazzle. This is, after all, a form which may have migrated with the gypsies from India -- and bears a certain resemblance to the subcontinent's kathak dance -- and the inhabitants of that country aren't exactly slackers in the rhythm department. Liza Thomson's "Solea" -- which is a kind of lament about one's solitude -- with its percussive, regular stamping patterns taconeo showed her to be a powerhouse virtuosa with a seemingly instinctive grasp of the intricacies her art.

And speaking of virtuosa, Yaelisa was certainly that in " Por Solea", which got its fire from her very long and very fluid solo, with its exquisite turns, as well as her extraordinarily expressive hand movements. The closer, "Fin de Fiesta", which featured the entire company, brought down the house. I should also mention music director Jason McGuire's playing, which had a suitably Iberian tinge throughout, and the expert lighting design which brought out all the color and drama of the dancers and their costumes. For further info on Yaelisa and Caminos Flamencos visit her site ( 

Michael McDonagh