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“La Luna Roja”, the Philippines’ First-Ever Flamenco Ballet, Brings High Drama to the Stage

Dancers are verbal storytellers. Each movement is a part of their vocabulary; each performance is comprised of countless invisible words weaving together to create an emotional narrative. Every step they take is the cadence of their speech, the beat by which their bodies convey their stories.

Flamenco dancers, it would follow, make for some of the most impassioned storytellers onstage. Their footwork, sharp and fierce and precise, evokes the fiery spirit within the dancers. Their arms, long and limber, moving with both grace and decisiveness, thrust that spirit into the air, filling the room with emotion. The art is dramatic; there can be no half-hearted words in the body of a flamenco dancer.

It was with this understanding that I watched a sneak peek of Fundacion Centro Flamenco’s La Luna Roja, the first original flamenco ballet in the Philippines. But before I go on, a clarification is in order: “ballet” in this sense is used only to mesh the concept with common parlance. The truth of the matter is that it’s extremely rare for flamenco performances to convey a full-length story, so much so that there is no actual term for a play that uses the dance form as its primary mode of communication. 

And this is exactly what makes La Luna Roja such an exciting idea. Not only does it bring an uncommon style of dancing—of which most of us have only a fleeting notion—to bigger audiences, but it does so with a sense of innovation.

The story of La Luna Roja was written specifically to match the spirit of flamenco—that is to say, it’s a wildly dramatic tale of love, sorcery, vengeance, and murder. Adrian, the son of a powerful sorceress, moves into a small Spanish town and falls in love with the beautiful Aydanamara. She, however, doesn’t believe her love is exclusive to one man, and so Adrian finds her in the arms of another. Aydanamara and her sisters then berate Adrian in the middle of the town square. Unable to deal with the humiliation, Adrian hangs himself.

The Sorceress is enraged at what happens, and curses the entire town under the light of the red moon. The villagers are place in a state of eternal slumber, while Aydanamara and her sisters are forced to relive the night of Adrian’s death, compelled to murder every man who enters the town and falls in love with them. 

One day, hundreds of years later, a man named Jamil enters the village and the cycle begins anew. Will he finally be the one to break the curse? Will the sisters be freed from the centuries of violence they’d endured?

The preview I watched only showed excerpts of the production, and so I can’t really tell you the answer. What I can say, however, is that the performance fully immerses the audience in the passions at play, from the agonized wailing of its cantaor (lead singer), the furious rhythms of the Spanish guitars, and the powerful movements of the bailaores (dancers), whose percussive footwork commanded my attention with every intense step.

I spoke to Leo Rialp, director of La Luna Roja, about the nuances of directing such a novel form of storytelling.

“It’s [flamenco is] usually ensemble work, and they usually don’t have stories and such,” he shared. “They have done stories before in Spain; there’s a Romeo and Juliet flamenco dance musical. There’s also some Spanish folktales, et cetera, but it’s not common at all. It’s usually what they call a tablao, where the individual soloists do numbers before an audience. It’s totally improvised. There’s music and a cantaor, and that’s about it.”

“Since this is the first flamenco ballet in the Philippines, the emotions are very raw. The story lent itself to becoming very passioned, with very heightened emotions. It’s common in flamenco to see what they call the duende. It’s very deeply rooted in flamenco where a dancer shows the anguish of the race, or a very strong emotional reaction to the dance, the music. It’s not found anywhere else, the duende as it is in flamenco.”

“In flamenco, you cannot overact,” he added. “If you do any less, it does not seem authentic. When flamenco is well-done, it creates a rapport with the audience. It’s a dance that really reaches out to the audience. It involves you.”

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Rialp also admits that, while Centro Flamenco shoots for emotional authenticity in its performance, they had to adapt some of the traditional forms into something more uniquely Filipino, as well as within the context of the story.

“We cannot do flamenco as Filipinos; being as we are. We’re too malambing,” he explained. “We decided we can’t tell our stories the way the Spanish dancers would. What we tried to do is we tried to put in some elements that were more raw, rougher, maybe less graceful. More elements of what Filipinos do well. The hand movements are more Asian than Spanish. We tried to interpret it having in mind what is Filipino and what we can do.”

In traditional flamenco, the hand moves at the wrist—independent of the arms—while the fingers move fluidly in succession. For a mourning scene in La Luna Roja, however, writer and choreographer Emma Estrada asked her dancers to twist their hands into more grotesque shapes, almost like gnarling branches of dead trees, so as to evoke the pain of loss. This, in turn, made the hands appear more similar to those in Southeast Asian dances, though the general movement remains recognizably flamenco.

It’s this very spirit of experimentation that has earned Centro Flamenco international recognition. They have recently been accredited by Escuela de Flamenco de Andalucia (EFA), one of the world’s most influential governing bodies in flamenco. They’ve also been asked to represent the Philippines at one of EFA’s international flamenco festivals next year, where they will be performing La Luna Rioja before some of the world’s best flamenco dancers. Based on the spirited preview I got to watch, they’re in for a treat.

Until then, local audiences can catch La Luna Roja at the RCBC Theater on November 23 and 24, 2019. Proceeds from the show will go to the benefit of the Mindfulness, Love, and Compassion Institute for Psychosocial Services, an organization that helps disadvantaged children and families get needed mental health care services.

For inquiries, contact Gia Ramos via gia.apelo.ramos@gmail.com.

© 2019 MANTLE MEDIA CORP . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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