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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Caminos flamenco

"We should always recognize that the beauty of Spain is not serene, is not soft, not restful--it is ardent, burning, excessive, sometimes unpredictable; a beauty which, blinded by its own splendor 'knocks its head against the wall'. -Federico Garcia Lorca

Last night my parents and I went to a spectacular flamenco performance in San Francisco put on by Caminos Flamenco with some additional visiting musicians and dancers from Spain. The show was at the Marine Memorial Theatre, which is a relatively small theatre located in a building that is also a hotel in San Francisco's theatre district. We wanted to arrive with plenty of time for tea and dinner before the show, so we drove down into the city mid-afternoon, arriving as the sun was just starting to sink behind the buildings.

We had decided to stop at my favourite tea house, Samovar, for a hot cup of tea and dessert before we headed over to the area where the theatre was located. We parked and made our way out into the city, passing the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with its many visitors streaming in and out of the doors, across the street and past the sculpture fountains, and along to Yerba Buena park, the last visitors still lingering on the grass, children running in and out of the Martin Luther King cave-like memorial that lies at the base of a multi-tiered fountain that gurgles and runs down step by step until it reaches the pool at the bottom. We slowly climbed the ramp that zigzags back and forth up to the square that lies above the fountain, the sound of water falling over stone all around us, pigeons taking an evening dip in the wide open pool at the top of the multi-layered fountain, a few tourists sitting on the benches that look out over the fountain and the park. The lights of the city were all coming on, the sky deepening from a light, watery to an inky deep blue. The church across from the park had its front door open. The office buildings climbing and falling in leggo like shapes became beautiful as the grey of their exterior walls was replaced by the tiny white lights streaming out through windows.

Samovar was filled with Saturday night cheer. Lots of folks just starting their night out in the city, or wrapping up a day of shopping before they got ready for a night out. It's glass walls radiated warm light, and Parisian tunes filled the room. We slid into a table and relaxed back into the cushions, taking in all the characters around us, the French music which transported us to Paris in another era, and inhaling the aromas of steaming tea coming from the tables around us. My mother and I ordered hot chai, my favourite drink at Samovar. It is creamy and spicy, and just sweet enough without being too sweet. I ordered my favourite dessert--Greek yoghurt springled with fresh mint, moist pieces of date, toasted walnuts and fine slices of apple drizzled with coconut syrup. It was divine. Samovar has a warm, welcoming atmosphere--from the comfy seating arrangement to the warm-hued light, it is a space for connecting, and would be an ideal place for a first date because time just sort of vanishes when you enter the front door and conversation comes easily, like warm honey.

We were reluctant to leave, but we wanted to pick up our tickets before supper and locate somewhere near the theatre for some food. The theatre was on the second floor of an old hotel that was plush and opulent. The kind of place with richly coloured carpet and a narrow winding staircase. I am not sure whether the carpet was deep red, but it *felt* deep red. We collected our tickets and then headed up the hill to a little sushi restaurant that was tucked into a tiny little space, but had an amazingly open feel to it, and somehow managed to pack a good crowd into the tiny space and still maintain a calm, warm, and relatively quiet atmosphere. We were taken to a table in front of the window--the last table in the restaurant. It turned out we had arrived just in time. The entire rest of the night a line of people waited in every available space inside the restaurant, and snaked along the pavement outside.

We enjoyed our meal and hot green tea, and left with full bellies and glowing cheeks. Back at the theatre we climbed the stairs and gave our tickets to the ushers. The theatre was smaller than I had expected--cosy and intimate. The flamenco group had a great lineup of musicians, and a terrific group of dancers. The male lead dancer, Juan Ogalla, from Cadiz, was an incredible performer. Every tap, every rise of the arms, every shake of the head was absolutely perfect. The female dancers were colourful and expressive, powerful and sensual, passionate and full of energy, joy and sorrow. My favourites were Clara Rodriguez, Fanny Ara and Mizuho Sato--from the US, France's Basque country, and Japan. The guitarist Jason McGuire blew me away. The man is a flamenco-playing machine! The night was full of rhythm and twists and turns and spins and shouts from the stage and audience, hands beating and clapping and tapping and snapping, feet clipping and clapping and tapping and stomping, strong legs leaping and stepping and opening and closing, waists twisting and hips thrusting and swaying, and arms rising up suddenly, wrists undulating and inviting, hands and fingers budding and opening into flower again and again. Even the voices of the singers-deep and throaty and rough and mournful were spot on. Sitting in the theatre, I was spellbound. Nothing existed in the world but that all-engrossing music that drew me in and danced with me for two hours, and then suddenly released me back into an awareness that I was sitting in a chair in a theatre in San Francisco, in awe, at the end of the night. It was truly an astonishingly beautiful performance by dancers, musicians and singers who have honed their craft and have such precise command over every muscle and gesture of their own bodies that there is not one detail that is overlooked.

We drove back to Sacramento with the colourful costumes and the rhythmic beat of the music still pumping through our bodies. It was one of those evenings that I will tell my grandchildren about some day, and they will close their eyes and see the dancers spinning on the stage, their bodies telling stories of love and rage, loss and triumph and birth and death, and the music circling and rising and falling--the beat of feet against the floor, hands clapping and hearts thumping hard against rib cages.

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