Have you ever felt like you were in a different place? As if you weren’t in Tallahassee in 2016, but rather in the rolling countryside of Spain? On Thursday, September 15 at 7 p.m. at Mission San Luis, I was lucky enough to be transported to the provocative and passionate realm of Spanish flamenco.
The Flamenco Dance and Music Concert started off as I was escorted through the foyer and into the event room, which tastefully incorporated modern lighting with the historic rustic feeling that comes with the architecture of early Spanish colonists. The dimly lit room and close proximity of the seating allowed you to relax, making it easier to become absorbed in the performances of the evening. The small room had very limited seating (about 50 seats) and people were taking advantage of such a special free event, so many guests had to stand in the back. A round of opening speeches were given by Coordinator of Musicology at FSU, Denise Von Glahn, and State Folklorist, Amanda Hardeman. Then the stars of the night were introduced: Paco and Celia Fonta. The renowned flamenco performers have lived the art of flamenco for 30 years, traveling across the U.S. and evoking the splendor and mood of traditional flamenco for captivated audiences. They also founded Siempre Flamenco – a non-profit dedicated to preserving flamenco music and dance.
After the introductions, the lighting turns to Paco, a lone guitarist, strumming softly. He builds the rhythm with increasingly rapid strums and stomps of his foot until Celia delicately drifts onto the stage. Centering herself, she raises her arms and moves her hips ever so slightly. Her body constantly conveys pure elegance, mystery, and passion all at once and in perfect harmony with the music from Paco. Castanets in hand, Celia makes her own rhythm within Paco’s song. She set the pace and entrances us all, firing off sharp clacks of the castanet and stomps of her heel on the wood floor in rapid rhythm with Paco. Paco strums furiously, his guitar and her body blending into one instrument working together to bring the music to life. The crowd felt the intensity of their art; the room became noticeably hotter, handbills fanning chests. Whoops of excitement erupted from the audience. Celia and Paco are able to accomplish what all artists dream of: fully captivating an audience. Even the toddlers drop their parents’ iPads and sit wide-mouthed at the overflowing passion the duo brought to life with flamenco. Celia moves to a natural rhythm, often closing her eyes as she makes expressive movements with her arms and hips. While twirling and gracefully bending her back, she brings the sweet melodies and soulful voice of Paco’s solo parts to life. Her dancing gives the audience a visual for the emotions communicated in the song, despite the fact that many audience members (including myself) couldn’t understand the Spanish lyrics. Celia and Paco Fonta were mesmerizing, and as Celia left unannounced in between acts, heads of the audience turned to her longingly as if she was not just a woman but more like a goddess of flamenco in our eyes.
When the audience’s attention returns to the stage, The Maharajah Flamenco Trio emerged. The Trio is a multicultural team of musicians who bring influences from many cultures to traditional flamenco. The guitarist of the group even quotes Paco Fonta, saying, “Flamenco musicians are the best at incorporating the best parts of music from different regions into the flamenco sound.” The Trio used this to justify bringing a didgeridoo on stage to augment their sound. The didgeridoo produced a huge bass sound that filled my entire body. Goosebumps form on exposed thighs next to me. As this beast of an instrument hypnotizes the audience, it pronounces the primal expressions of passion that flamenco best exaggerates. When we came down off the musical elation provided to us by The Maharajah Flamenco Trio after they played their last song, Paco and Celia return from seemingly nowhere to join them for one last series of performances. These are freestyle and improvisational with a lot of free-form playing and dancing, especially when Celia brought a mother and her young daughter to dance along with her onstage. Then Celia escorts them off for her last solo dance to end the night.
As I left the room, chatter was in the air. One older woman turns to her friend and says, “You get tired just watching, don’t you?” I have to agree; the night was a beautiful mixture of music, emotions and culture, but I am definitely ready for a nap to recover from the intense atmosphere of flamenco.
By ALEX AMENTA / Assistant News Editor