By Bonnie Rosenstock
Photos: Paco Villalta
My visit to Madrid this past June happily coincided with the month-long “Suma Flamenca,” which showcased performances by flamenco’s finest musicians, singers and dancers in venues throughout the city and outskirts. One of the bailaoras recommended as a must-see was Olga Pericet, but unfortunately, I was unable to catch her one-night-only “Pisadas.”
When I learned that Pericet was coming to New York in November with a pared-down solo show, I felt like I was given a second chance. I not only saw “Flamenco Sin Título” at Repertorio Español, 138 East 27th Street, but also had the opportunity to interview her afterwards.
Pericet commenced the demanding 90-minute show dressed in a black form-fitting unitard with a white toreador jacket that opened at the armpits to allow freedom of movement. She was accompanied by her accomplished three-piece ensemble, guitarist Antonia Jímenez and singers Ismael Fernández and José Angel Carmona, who also played mandolin. The only prop on the intimate stage was a suspended overhead lamp with one light bulb, whose glare was somewhat blinding to the audience. Thankfully, it was turned off for later dance numbers.
Pericet’s footwork was peerless. Her supple torso grew even longer when she mimicked the movements of a toreador about to make her kill. She deftly used small castanets, which made a clear, sharp sound. This, and the last dance, a reprise of sorts, also in black unitard (with a different toreador jacket) were the most riveting and satisfying dances of the evening.
The Córdoba-born Pericet, 39, not only performs flamenco, but is also renowned for Spanish classical dance, “Escuela Bolera,” or Bolero. In fact, Pericet was the 2014 recipient of Radio Nacional’s “El Ojo Critico” award in the dance category for “her versatility as interpreter and her creativity when it comes to understanding Spanish dance and flamenco [and] for a path that transcends geographic languages and for her courage in taking artistic risks.” Her distant Pericet relations, whom she did not meet until she was older, are masters of bolero. The recent book, “La Escuela Bolera Sevillana. Familia Pericet,” by Marta Carrasco chronicles the history of this legendary family and their immeasurable contribution to Spanish dance.
Pericet performed two light-hearted boleros wearing a coquettish smile, twinkling eyes and a billowing red tutu that looked like it had exploded around her body. Her castanet work and dancing were superb, but one can understand why it has been overshadowed by the more dynamic, passionate flamenco.
She also performed a sublime flamenco with a fringed manton (shawl) that was as big as she was. She flung it around with ease, creating glorious shapes around her body and in the air. Pericet also did a traditional long-train (bata de cola) number, which didn’t feel as strong.
Pericet has a commanding larger-than-life stage presence, so it was a surprise to see how petite she is. We talked in Spanish in her cramped dressing room, hemmed in by her varicolored costumes. She said she knew she wanted to be a dancer at age 8. “It was everywhere in the streets [of Córdoba].” Pericet has lived in Madrid for 18 years and feels very much at home here.
I asked her how she felt after performing such an intense program. I told her that I felt exhausted, yet exhilarated. But for her, it was like floating. “Like you are in a trance, there’s no reaction, everything feels clean. It’s a gift from my soul. I bring everything and enter into another place. I don’t really know what has happened.”
Why did she choose to entitle her show “Flamenco Untitled”? She told me that flamenco is very structured in the sense that it’s very traditional, “puro” or “purista,” but not necessarily up to date. “There are limitations that I think are good, but like all arts, you shouldn’t close it. We should have it open according to the times in which we live.”
She continued, “It’s my personal style, so I didn’t want to give it a title. I wanted to leave it open to the imagination, according to the emotions that I see. [The production] has an essential dramatic thread but not a particular theme. I wanted it to be, let it flow. It’s especially good for New York. Each person who sees it can put on their own title.”
One of the hallmarks of flamenco is improvisation within the structure, and so it is within Pericet’s original choreography. “I always need to leave space for improvisation. There are times when I need it,” she acknowledged. “First, because not every day is the same. Since there are solos, it allows me to do this. Flamenco is very passionate, very in the moment, spontaneous, alive, like a jazz session. It’s an art that has a great deal of communication. Even in very fixed parts, if I need it, I say ‘my space’ and whatever happens, happens.”
There are marked cues for the singers and guitarist, but she gives them the liberty to take their space, too, “so it flows,” she said. “If a person comes more than one time, they will see within the structure of the show a lot of different things happening.”
The theme of her “Pisadas” was the liberation of women over the popular festivals and rituals that restrict them. “The show was about how to break the limitations that are put on women, the lives they have to live simply because of customs and traditions,” she related. “In many arts, especially in flamenco, there is machismo which limits women.”
Pericet has proven beyond doubt that for her there are no limits, and no title to define or confine her.
OLGA PERICET HAS A NEW SHOW, "MOSAICO", AT REPERTORIO ESPAÑOL 138 E 27th St, New York, NY 10016
Bonnie used to write regularly for Guidepost. Since relocating to the States she has won three journalism awards from the prestigious New York Press Association Better Newspaper Contest for her reporting on community issues in the Village (where she lives) and Chelsea neighborhoods, New York.
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