Watching the 10th annual Flamenco del Mar Festival at the Coast Capital Playhouse earlier this month, it was evident that, more than viewing an isolated performance, I was witnessing the latest step in the evolution of a family.
That family is undeniably the creation of instructor and artistic director Jill Tunbridge, guiding light of the Flamenco del Mar Spanish Dance Studio. In addition to providing her own powerful spontaneity as a solo dancer in the festival, over the course of a decade she has succeeded in planting and carefully nurturing the seeds of an authentic flamenco tradition in our own backyard.
Long gone are the days when this studio showcase simply presented students gamely attempting to follow flamenco choreography.
Now, even a casual viewer sees performers for whom the lightbulb has turned on; who are understanding and feeling the way to express themselves through the idiom.
If, sometimes, the results are raw and unpolished, they are not joyless, sterile exercises in technique. The work is real and in-the-moment, close to the heart of true flamenco.
Although circumstances had reduced the number of performers on stage for this year’s event, the increased exposure of those who remained showed an even clearer picture of how far Flamenco del Mar has come.
Longtime troupe dancers Alessia Haney, Rhona Segarra and Helen Fehrenberg, for example, showed in both their solo and group dances that they are mastering the dynamics of the endlessly challenging dance and musical form.
At the Sept. 2 performance of the two-night festival, Haney demonstrated her mettle by capably surviving a sound miscue in her opening number, a Clasico de Jerez, and continued to offer compelling work throughout the evening.
Segarra performed her most challenging solo to date, a Guajira, with great strength and grace, complimented by the vocals of Fehrenberg, who in addition to being an accomplished dancer is developing into a notable cantaor, or flamenco singer.
Dancers Maria Reeves, Eve Ojea, Julia Verde and Doris Hollett also demonstrated a growing mastery while Kawal Varpaul showed that one can still be a valuable member of the clan, even in a limited dance and largely percussion role.
Crucial, too, to the familial sense – which is so much a part of the tradition in Spain – were the child performers, whose presence alone suggests a bright future for flamenco on the Peninsula.
Trudy Jarcicova and Onadee McKenna, at only six years old, are at the stage where cuteness outweighs technique, but demonstrated commitment and concentration beyond their years.
At nine, Rodrigo Jarcicova showed he has spirit, focus and fearlessness, and isn’t overawed by being the only boy among his peers.
And sister Carmen Jarcicova, even at 11, shows in her every move she clearly gets the essence of flamenco. It will be exciting to see such talents develop over the next decade.
Another element was a surprise – cajon (percussion) player Ron Ludman (whose daughter dances with Flamenco del Mar, but was injured for the festival), had his moment to shine as a solo dancer and seized it convincingly, providing a welcome dash of testosterone to the mix.
Emphasizing such student achievement is no denigration of Tunbridge’s excellent guest performers who helped establish and maintain an authentic atmosphere for the evening as well as set a mark for the learners.
Guitarist Peter Mole and cantaor Farnaz Ohadi, in addition to their superb musical skills, are throughly steeped in the soul of flamenco, while Friday’s guest dancer, noted performer and teacher Beverley Mantovani, was a revelation in her passion and intensity, and triumphant raw energy – almost a study in instant ‘duende,’ the transcendent state all ‘bailoras’ strive for.
Well-known Peninsula guitarist Doug Towle gave two virtuoso demonstrations of his individual and justly celebrated nuevo flamenco style, and when Tunbridge joined him on stage to improvise dance moves to his spontaneous guitar licks, the audience had the sheer pleasure that comes from watching two highly accomplished artists striking sparks off one another.