It's 12:15am on Monday as I type these words. Last night I attended a rehearsal of Ulrika Frank's Mirada Flamenca dance company. The members of the company are Olivia Rojo, Debra Belo, Jackie Perodin, Nicole Totah, Renee Gokey, Maria Roncal, Cecilia Terrasa and guitarist/percussionist Behzad Habibzai. They will be performing on March 4-5, 2006 at the Jack Guidone Theater at Joy of Motion in Friendship Heights.
I briefly interviewed them during their break. After I review my notes, I'll add more commentary. In the meantime, enjoy these photos.
It's 10:42am on Tuesday as I type these words--finally getting around to writing about my evening with Mirada Flamenca...
Company member Cecilia Terrasa was my ride. As we drove through Vienna, she commented that the streets here are very dark. Apparently no street lights in this relatively wealthy neighborhood--must be an overzealous energy conservationist on the city council. But I noticed a house with all the lights on with cars parked all over the place. You couldn't miss it. "Well that's definitely not the house of a conservationist!"
Cecilia laughed, "That's Ulrika's house!"
"I guess the neighbors probably think she has a party here every week."
We parked as close as we could, opened the gate leading to the backyard entrance and descended the stairs.
February 19, 2006 7:26pm
As soon as we approached the door, I heard the sounds that confirmed that I was in fact not at a house party but rather at a flamenco rehearsal. Welcome to Ulrika's home studio: Casita Flamenca
It's not that big, but it's just right for a small class of I'd say 8 or 9 students. The inset lighting is warm, the floor looks beautiful and the overall decor is complementary with attractive flamenco posters all around. There's a comfy couch with winter jackets, purses and dance paraphernalia randomly strewn about--this place has a comfortable homey feel. Next to the couch, a water cooler. On the table are energy bars, a bag of pistachio nuts and some Starburst candies.
As I was about to take a seat, I caught Ulrika's eye. She took a moment to greet me and went back to rehearsing her dancers without losing a beat. They were working on tangos.
February 19, 2006 7:29pm
Cecilia took a seat next to Ulrika and starting doing palmas. Cecilia is very pregnant and is in no condition to dance right now, but she still comes to most rehearsals and will be one of the palmeros for the show in March.
I pulled out my camera and took my first shot. FLASH! Oops! I know that dancers, female dancers especially, can become very self-conscious in the presence of a camera. Oh well, get used it ladies. You're going to be onstage. :-) It didn't seem to faze them anyway. I turned my flash off and continued to snap away.
February 19, 2006 7:34pm
Company guitarist Behzad Habibzai has carefully learned the rhythmic cues of the choreography. The music was created for the dance and the dance was created with music in mind.
Ulrika later commented that she cannot just teach steps. You can learn steps anywhere. In flamenco you have to listen and be one with the music.
"Ulrika is very good at articulating structure." says Renee Gokey.
On the wall next to the couch she's got a chart with letras for tangos. Each line of the letra has a number. There's an arrow above each line indicating the melodic direction. The company members know the letra and sing it and it doesn't sound that great. Doesn't matter though. They're not trying to be flamenco singers. By singing the letra, they can better feel the musical direction of the cante. At the bottom of the chart is the caveat "The singer can shorten or extend each line at anytime!"
This is very practical knowledge. What's more, Ulrika is singing a particular letra for the rehearsal knowing full well that the singer performing for the show is probably not going to sing it the same way. It's not easy, but welcome to the real world of flamenco performing. Singers will try to accomodate dancers and vice-versa but they need to listen to each other and if necessary compromise or improvise.
Her classes are physically and mentally demanding. In fact, Ulrika knows that when the students walk out of class feeling confused, it's a good sign. It means they are breaking into a new level of knowledge which is understandably uncomfortable at first. Cecilia quips, "You gotta have the pain to get the knowledge."
February 19, 2006 7:35pm
"Breathe through your hands," Ulrika advises as they do braceo during Behzad's plaintive silencio-like falseta. I'm not a dancer, but hearing Ulrika explain the movement as she demonstrates makes it very clear what she wants. It's too often I see beginning dancers learn a movement on a purely physical level. The result is that something is lacking because they don't know the feeling or visualization behind the movement.
February 19, 2006 7:41pm
Behzad Habibzai has taught a rhythm workshop to fellow company members. One of their favorite musical exercises is "call and response" where Behzad will play one compas of rhythm on the cajon in say, bulerias. And the dancer has to "reply" to his compas with a rhythm pattern of her own."
Cecilia explains, "We have to be our own musicians. We have to rely on our own sense of musicality."
One of their homework assignments was to come up with their own remates to a letra. While they are all under her artistic direction, Ulrika maintains, "There are no copycats. Each person has their own personality."
"No cookiecutters here. Ulrika is inspiring as a dancer and a teacher," Cecilia adds.
February 19, 2006 7:49pm
The company officially began in October 2005. This tangos choreography was just finished in January 2006 and just now, as Renee says on behalf of the company, "We're getting our groove."
February 19, 2006 7:50pm
Ulrika is very detail-oriented and even goes as far as choreographing the timing of the bows. Most dance companies that I've worked with leave the bowing details until the last minute if they do it at all.
They practice on their own outside of rehearsal and the studio is open an hour before class so that students and company members can warm-up. All this hard work is paying off. Ulrika said that when she squints her eyes watching them during the tangos, she can see them moving as one.
Renee adds, "We are at different levels, but we are growing as a group."
February 19, 2006 7:53pm
Ulrika said that she is very proud of Mirada. The Arte is very important but above all you need to be humble.
February 19, 2006 7:54pm