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A New Spin on Flamenco Israel Galvan's solo show pushes the boundaries of flamenco dancing

By EMERI FETZER

From September 20-25th The Joyce Theater opens its fall season with Israel Galván’s vibrant Le Edad de Oro or The Golden Age, a full length solo flamenco performance accompanied by live musicians. In a Joyce lineup that often features full dance companies, Mr. Galván’s work is uniquely captivating, as is his philosophy on dance.

Flamenco is said to have originated in Spain from gypsy culture, but it has been through several evolutions. In the late 1800's, cafés cantantes (music cafés) turned flamenco into what we know today, an athletic and interactive Spanish dance form inseparable from the music that accompanies it. 

For Galván, flamenco was always a way of life, and that's no surprise, since his parents were Sevillian flamenco dancers Jose Galván and Eugenia de Los Reyes. "I learned flamenco from my family in a very organic way," he says. "I was not conscious of learning something, but just absorbing what I was seeing or listening to. When the time to decide what to do for a living arrived, I wanted to be a football player more than a dancer. But as time goes by, I realize I like more and more my work. For me, performing is a need and a responsibility."

Like many dancers, Galván started dancing professionally as a member of an ensemble. He remembers his first solo performance as a turning point in his career, and with La Edad De Oro, he has begun to reach a larger audience outside Spain.

The title of the piece refers to both the height of flamenco culture and a golden moment in Galvan’s own development. He explains, "I think the golden age of flamenco includes dance, guitar, and singing. The real evolution of flamenco sustains all three. Evolution starts always from the inside, from what each artist is or has inside. There may be a revolution in one single artist. That's why I think every artist has his golden age. The concept of the show, based in the guitar, the singing and the dance, comes from a will of showing the artist itself, without ornaments."

He adds that he is thrilled to be performing this piece in this venue: "The Joyce is a very special theatre for me, I danced there in 1994 with my master Mario Maya, and I would like the audience to remember me with the same affection that I remember that moment."

Galván hopes audiences respond to his interpretations of a traditional dance. "Flamenco is an art with very deep roots in our culture, and so it's impossible to find your own flamenco language if you don't know flamenco deeply, if you don't know the history of the form," he says. "On the other hand, you can't feel you are limited, enclosed by your own art. You have to feel free in your field, to be able to find your own language."

Because flamenco is imbued with cultural and historical importance, it is expected that purists would want the form unchanged. Galván, rather, sees these traditional roots as an opportunity for continued growth and expression. Adding more percussive footwork than is typical and playing with long pauses and silences, he finds a space for invention in the sometimes tight musical structures of the dance. Making flamenco relatable to modern audiences (even those who are new to it), Galván’s solos marry his own voice with that of his predecessors.

"Since the beginning I learned the most traditional or classical flamenco forms, and the more contemporary aspects of my dance come from a need to create my own language," he says. "I wouldn't call it 'contemporary influences.' I would rather say it's the result of the inner expression each artist must be in search of."

Galván’s musicians, David and Alfredo Lagos, will accompany him on stage to complete the trio of essential flamenco elements: dance, singing, and guitar. Explaining their importance, Galván says, "Dancers are musicians themselves. We use our own body to make music. We start dancing with silence. And then, guitar and voice make you change your dance. In this show, we need to be tightly connected on stage. We need to listen to each other. The strength of the piece comes from the fact of being only three artists trying to fill the stage, so we exhaust all our energy."

 While the piece is fully scripted, spontaneous inspiration creates an element of surprise. "Everything is planned, but in flamenco as in scenic arts, you can't repeat twice the same thing," Galván says. "Each show is different, is like doing it for the first time."

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Emeri Fetzer also contributes to DancePulp.com, a website about professional dance and dancers. This article is presented as part of an ongoing collaboration between DancePulp and TDF Stages.