Arte y Pureza
The real deal
by James M. Manheim
Bits of flamenco have seeped out into the stream of free-floating artifacts that runs through our landscape of cultural consumption, showing up in a television commercial here, a dance mix there. But the individual atoms communicate nothing of the whole. Even a good CD won't do it. To get the full, extreme effect, you have to experience flamenco with all its forces working together. Those forces are the singing (cante), the dancing (baile), the guitar (toque), and, often, hand clapping (palmas), which has its own technique and terminology and may be replaced or augmented with foot stomping or other kinds of rhythmic noise. Flamenco comes from Andalusia in southern Spain. Nobody agrees on exactly who created it (or even on where the word flamenco comes from). But anyone who has seen it done right will agree that it's a riveting combination of spectacular, rhythmically intricate guitar playing, passionate dancing, and high-tension, full-throated vocals. It is a grassroots art form, with deep traditions forged at the margins of Spanish society and rooted deeply in its soul.
It's hard to get the whole crew of performers together in these early-to-bed parts. There used to be a great restaurant in Detroit called Casa de Espaa, run by a flamenco guitarist who made one wall into a giant map of Spain, composed of tiny colored tiles. Singers and dancers came from around the Midwest, and if you brought enough red wine the intensity level could be pretty high. It was a great place to see flamenco, whose natural habitat is a tavern or restaurant, but it all came to an end in 2000, after the owner was killed in an auto accident. Some of the musicians have been showing up at Vicente's Cuban restaurant on Library Street in Detroit, behind the Compuware building, but around here in recent years, flamenco has generally been found only in bits and pieces.
So it's a pleasure to see that the Ark is bringing
to town the Arte y Pureza Flamenco Company, a group of Spanish performers mixed with some young Californians who sought them out for instruction. The lead dancer is San Diego-born Cihtli Ocampo, "La Gallardi," who went to Spain on a Fulbright scholarship in 1999 and stayed on to apprentice herself to one of the tight-knit families that pass the tradition along in Spain. The Spaniards singer Maria Peña, guitarist Antonio Moya, and dancer-singers Luis Peña and Javier Heredia are Andalusians of Gypsy descent. It should be the real deal.
And maybe Ark management will sell some of their liquor memberships when Arte y Pureza arrives on Tuesday, February 7. Maybe they'll even lay in some Spanish wine at the bar.
[Review published February 2006]