Flamenco dance troupe innovates with stand-out themes

On Oct. 27 in Skinner Hall, A Palo Seco, a New York–based dance company, will perform, providing students and community members a glimpse into its creative and modern take on flamenco technique and choreography. Courtesy of Andrea Balducci via Flickr.

On Saturday, Oct. 27, at 8 p.m., A Palo Seco Flamenco Company will perform at the Skinner Hall Mary Anna Fox Martel Recital Hall.

A Palo Seco is a New York–based group run by artistic director and choreographer Rebeca Tomas.

Since the company’s debut in May 2010, the group has been acclaimed by audiences for its innovative approach, which blends traditional flamenco techniques with the modern, metropolitan context in which its members live.

Since A Palo Seco’s debut production at Theatre 80 St. Marks in New York City, the group has been lauded by publications such as The New York Times and Theatre On-Line, the latter of which said that the company was “a feast for the eyes and the ears” (Theatre On-Line, “A Palo Seco”).

The company has continued to perform at Theatre 80 annually, as well as appearing throughout the United States at prestigious venues, which have included the Chicago Flamenco Festival, Central Park Summer Stage, Jacob’s Pillow and the New Victory Theater.

Tomas has received several accolades for her work, including the LMCC’s MCAF grant, the Jerome Foundation’s Travel and Study Grant and a New York Foundation for the Arts 2013 Fellowship.

“A Palo Seco” is a phrase that refers to a stripped-down style of flamenco music, often consisting of singing or percussion alone, that is an integral element of Tomas’ choreography. This minimalistic aesthetic is representative of Tomas’ separation from the conventional flamenco tradition, while also demonstrating her adherence to its trademark emotional movements.

Assistant Professor of Physics and Science, Technology and Society Jose G. Perillan is Tomas’ partner, and has helped her produce shows since she formed A Palo Seco in 2010.

Perillan described why Tomas’ work is in many ways groundbreaking: “In introducing audiences to flamenco as an art form that lives, thrives and evolves outside of its endemic context, Rebeca’s choreographies employ traditional props in unconventional ways and use musical accompaniment not typically associated with this genre.”

He continued to describe the specificities to the innovativeness of the choreography, stating, “Many of her pieces feature an all-female dance cast taking on the strength and poise of the male persona and challenging gender-specific stereotypes within the art form.”

Assistant Professor of Music Justin Patch has also been working closely with A Palo Seco. Patch explained how the company is representative of modernity, stating, “The most obvious way is that they are a collection of artists and performers from all over the world. Rebeca is from Connecticut, I know one of her guitarists is from Spain, another from Argentina.”

Tomas’ effort to create a globalized flamenco group is also apparent in her choreography, which often presents an amalgamation of this genere’s techniques.

Although Tomas studied in Spain at the internationally renowned flamenco Academy Amor de Dios, she has also worked with teachers of various nationalities, which cultivated her knowledge and ability to present eclectic methodologies.

Rebeca Tomas’ troupe A Pelo Seco aims to fuse traditional flamenco techniques with innovative
movements and motifs, creating modern statements about both flamenco and dance in general. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Patch additionally identified where A Palo Seco’s generosity is a reflection of their inventiveness. Patch explained, “One of the main things they do is go to schools and teach about flamenco and Spanish culture. It’s an important part of preserving the art form and undoing some of the mythologies and exotifications that haunt flamenco and make people think of it as a novelty rather than an art form.”

A Palo Seco will provide these lessons to the Poughkeepsie community: Tomas will teach both dance and music master classes on Vassar’s campus at the end of the month in which she will explain the different music and dance forms with which her company engages. The dance master class will take place on Thursday, Oct. 25, from 3:10–4:25 p.m. in Kenyon Studio One, while the music master class will take place on Saturday, Oct. 27, from 1–2 p.m at the Skinner Martel Recital Hall.

Although A Pelo Seco is known as an avant-garde flamenco group, Patch believes this label to be misleading. Patch stated, “The tradition of flamenco is fairly divergent. There are regional styles for sure, but there is so much mixing, both between regional styles and with other styles of music and dance, that there is no real value in talking about flamenco in the singular. There are many traditions.”

The program of the show promises eight acts, including improvisational numbers, folkloric dances and guitar solos. Each piece adds its own modern twist, while still mainatining resonances to traditional flamenco styles and movements.

Perillan encouraged all to attend, stating, “Audience members will be brought on a true emotional journey, at once experiencing the raw essence of traditional flamenco while also being exposed to boundary challenging motifs.” Audiences, students and community members alike are sure to be given a taste of the dynamic and creative world flamenco dance and its modern iterations offer.

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