BEIRUT: A performance by Israel Galvan can be remarkably free of artifice. The spareness of such dance is all the more striking because his form is flamenco.
Refugees of the 20th century may recall this highly percussive Spanish dance tradition entering popular consciousness with a flourish of color – elaborately dressed, stern-faced (often female) dancers in high heels and castanets, accompanied by cantor (or choir) and guitar-wielding, surface-slapping musicians.
In his reading of flamenco, Galvan has cut away what he deems the dross of the traditional form – or perhaps what that form had become in the age of industrial tourism and stadium concerts.
Galvan brought his most recent creation, “FLA-CO-MEN,” to D-Beirut Warehouse Friday evening, officially bringing down the curtain on BIPOD, Beirut’s International Platform of Dance.
Aficionados of contemporary dance (or Google, for that matter) will know the Spaniard devised this piece for musical accompaniment.
International critics have remarked upon the significant role his ensemble has played in kicking over whatever gestures to convention audiences might have expected from an evening of “flamenco.”
The BIPOD iteration of “FLA-CO-MEN” was sparer still. The dancer-choreographer’s accompaniment Friday evening included a frame drum, a candy wrapper, a bottle of water, his shoes, light.
When lit, the venue’s subtly terraced seating allowed the audience to witness the sparse spectacle from three sides but the show commenced with Galvan entering the hall under cover of darkness. So concealed, and with rubber flooring insulating his step, Galvan moved among the terraces of the three wings of seating, taps and brushes upon a surface reinforcing his muffled footfalls.
His pauses amid the terraces might be accentuated by a bit of scuffing, castanetlike finger-snapping or a brief flurry of percussive footwork. The light of a mobile phone screen suggested the source of some of the tapping-scuffings to be a frame drum. The dancer immediately abandoned it on the floor before the stage, spinning it like a huge coin to fall dormant by the time the house lights rose.
Once onstage the performer was in constant motion, as though a sentient force were moving through his body, feverishly seeking a way out.
For the most part Galvan channeled this force through his formidable knowledge of the form.
The performance was a highly gestural one, replete with formal flourishes and contortions that at times looked as though they might even be abstracted from the conventional flamenco choreography – though they may or may not be adorned by footwork.
Other times he’d step, with little or no warning, into a series of rapid-fire, rafter-shaking stamps before strolling casually away, as if distracted or simply unimpressed by what he’d heard or felt.
Startling as Galvan’s technique is, much of the percussion of this performance had nothing to do with his feet, but finger-snapping, chest, arm, thigh-slapping. (The final movement of this show was a spirited spell of teeth-flicking with his fingers.) At all times a given gesture or solo fragment seemed to engage with a score that only the dancer could hear.
As Galvan was alone on stage, the audience sometimes overheard traces of that score arise in the dancer’s vocalizations.
At such moments – as when he’d lunge across the stage, only to freeze, arms raised, on his toes – you might hear a subdued squeal issue from the dancer’s throat, like a winking salute to a youthful Michael Jackson.
No choruses of laughter arose during “FLA-CO-MEN,” but neither was this the only time a sense of humor suggested itself this evening.
Occasionally Galvan’s energetic movement seemed like the amused improvisations of a mime – strolling across the stage, kicking an invisible object into the air, catching it with one hand, perhaps to hurtle it into the stage-right seating with a cartoonish softball pitch.
At one phase, his stroll from one staccato solo fragment to another was adorned with a hand gesture at the side of his head.
He might have been miming the flower that another flamenco dancer would wear behind her ear.
In past shows, his 2010 performance of “Solo” at Beirut City Center, for instance, Galvan’s lonely exertions were accompanied by props of some kind. The only sign of this Friday evening was an elevated square, downstage right, which you’d assume might enhance his taps electronically.
When the dancer charged downstage right the first time, however, no electronic sound issued.
It was as though the square were meant to dampen, not heighten, the concussion. That said, it was here that Galvan’s second piece of accompaniment was heard.
A candy wrapper had been secreted within one of the dozen microphones set on the surface of the stage to amplify the dancer’s footfalls – and the cellophane wrapping as he removed it, crackling, dropped a candy in his mouth and stuffed the wrapper back under the microphone.
The water bottle came into play when Galvan walked offstage, about a third of the way into the performance, and paused (a bit more casually than a politician on the campaign trail) to rehydrate.
This “accompaniment” played a specific role in modulating this show. Frame drum and darkness were used to create a sense of mystery, something approaching the sacral. Candy wrapper and water bottle not only subverted this tone, they made the show resemble a rehearsal – dismembering the artificial unity of performance.
For the BIPOD version of “FLA-CO-MEN,” the dancer’s shoes stayed on as long as the lights did.
So much for accompaniment.
For more on BIPOD and Maqamat Dance Theater, see www.maqamat.org.