Soulé was a transformative experience whose news needs to be spread like a testament. This one-night only performance of contemporary flamenco, blues and rhythm — presented by Art Works for Us — on Aug. 17 at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, featured the talents of Aire Dance Company and director Ana Miranda, and the Gypsy Cat Band under the direction of Cari Ferrari. The complement of 15 artists included flamenco and modern dancers, blues and flamenco musicians and vocalists, and a spoken-word artist.
The black box on-stage experience is a thrill. The patrons first wait back-stage in a large concrete loading area normally reserved for the transport of set pieces. Then, as the large roll-away steel door opened to the back of the stage, the awaiting audience was bathed with the light of the colorful booms as they carefully made their way to seats on several risers sitting on the actual stage. Behind them was an entirely empty auditorium. The performance took place at the sacred core of the stage. Those assembled were invited to a secret gathering of an all-senses banquet.
Many dance concerts present a sampling of repertory of pieces not normally related to one another. Soulé, however, was a single exhalation with different pitches and tones all in harmony. Each dance and/or musical performance spilled into the next seamlessly, like chapters in a book continuing the story. Each element of music, dance, and word were sister threads in one unifying fabric. The fusion of rhythm and blues with flamenco was presented so organically that you would believe flamenco was birthed in New Orleans as much as in Andalusia; or that the blues were as much a part of the arid plains of Spain as they are of the Mississippi Delta; or that el cante flamenco sung by Jamie Moreno was a cry birthed in Arabic North Africa as easily as it was in a Gospel-filled church. The eclectic music, played and sung live, or sometimes recorded, ranged from Sinead O’Conner, Aretha Franklin, Ike and Tina Turner, and Sam Cooke; to original scoring or arrangement by Ferrari that included the instrumentation of a drum set, sax, guitars, Spanish classical guitar, and palmas flamenca.
The opening piece is the first transcendental moment as we are welcomed to the regal presence of Ana Miranda in Joy. Before any taconeo, or note, or movement, Miranda’s single opening pose in the prelude demands attention and appreciation. What follows is both the deliberate control of the rhythms and the abundant expression in her arms to the accompaniment of Juliet Maisha singing a provoking “I do not want what I have not got,” by Sinead O’Conner and “Joy,” by the indomitable Betty Lavette.
Pioneer Winter performed the solo Nature Boy, choreographed by Miranda in collaboration with Winter, whose braceo arm movements poured into a larger modern vocabulary. His dancing was an open embrace inviting or offering reciprocation. S-Word, with spoken word written and performed by Marie Whitman, was a declaration without apology to “segregate the sensitive,” as Whitman took ownership of her openness to feel an empowering “I feel so much” as a facilitation to healing.
Passion Play, a piece in three movements, highlights Miranda, Ana Bolt, and Barny Espinal in a trio where each of the three women dance in turn with a red shawl and invoke either a powerful facet to the many sides of one woman, or the many facets of a woman’s passion, love, and intensity. The shawl itself becomes the object of her devotions or scorn. Their footwork and rhythms were intricate, daring, and awe-inspiring as they moved from playful pauses to ritualistic stomps.
The four section NOLA Suite, “dedicated to the survival of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina,” moved musically from an opening zydeco jubilee to the haunting cante flamenco of Moreno; the drummer’s cymbals tolling like an ominous bell; and a saxophone solo engineered to reverb and echo itself like an unholy yet grieving church organ. Ferrari and the musicians were masters in transforming their instruments into voices in the ether and collective memory of one single tragedy. The piece progressed from solos and duets to final rousing ensemble with all artists on stage as the dancers used canes and their feet in increasingly complicated rhythms escalating in tension and feverish speed. Ultimately the represented anger and frustration, the disbelief of a people left on their own, evolved into unifying assembly final piece A Change is Gonna Come, based on traditional Sevillanas, and accompanied by Ferrari’s arrangement of the Sam Cooke’s title song.
If every artist could spend an hour in the creative soup that must be Ana Miranda’s mind, the hope would be that they would create something as unique, vibrant, and joyfully unexpected and rewarding as Soulé. Miranda has mastered the transformation of a classical and passionate form such as flamenco to a limitless bounty of new art and explorations, all while captivating the audience’s attention and worship of a new gospel.
Photo credit: Neil de la Flor