Music Feature

Ole! (One Naive Flamenco Festival Review.)

by Joshua Pelta-Heller
Spoiler Alert: Rosario Toledo's Flamenco Company Is Pretty Awesome. Photos by Joshua Pelta-Heller
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First things first: I don’t know a single thing about flamenco music.  Nothing.  Other than the some vague amalgamated preconception that must have been informed by a movie or two (and don’t ask me now which ones), a sangria-soaked experience at Amada once or twice a few years back, and the opening bars of The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, from the Beatles' 1968 release commonly known as The White Album.  That’s the embarrassing truth.  (And, while I’m feeling vulnerable and honest, I’ve also never seen Rocky.  I’ll shrug here like Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid after he admits to Newman that he can’t swim.)

So as I sat for two hours on Sunday in the filled fourth floor theater of the Christ Church’s Neighborhood House in Olde City, with a camera pressed against my face, I wondered if our Arts&Culture editor would really make me write the article to accompany these photos and, if so, what I could possibly say about this show that would be of any value to anyone.  I could go on to Wikipedia, spend 30-45 minutes reading, and then reorganize and regurgitate the information here.  I could transcribe half of the program bill for today’s show.  

The third option I considered is an earnest attempt to briefly articulate the emotion that these dancers, musicians, and singers are able to evoke on that stage, to convey it to you, to all you interested readers.  

I would have to presume that what I saw that afternoon was an iteration of traditional flamenco, updated and infused with a hybrid of styles and art forms: a little opera, a little tap dance, a little theater, a little ballet, a little modern dance, all committed to a vibrant Spanish soundtrack of vocals, the percussive punctuation of proficient classical guitar, castanets, and maracas, and an intermittent chorus of “Oles!” exclaimed like the “Amens!” and “Hallelujahs!” uttered by Southern Baptist congregants.  The whole stage -- the whole room -- was alive, today, with an engaging performance I couldn’t take my eyes off of, with loud, commanding music and musicianship, with consummate skill, and with an audience absorbed and emotionally connected to what was really an interactive show.  It was vital, life-affirming, as good art should be.  

My perspective was entirely naive, this afternoon.  I walked into that show a veritable flamenco tabula rasa, not knowing a good performance from a bad one, or even traditional from modernized Spanish music.  All I can say is that, by the time I left, my shoes were still vibrating.  

If you can, try to catch one or two of the remaining events of this fantastic cultural installation.

Rosario Toledo and her Flamenco Company, Pasion Y Arte perform for Philadelphia’s First Flamenco Festival.  Events are scheduled through April 1st.  More information at or at 215-921-8126. 

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