Cartelera | Internacional | 09 de febrero de 2010

Freeze-Frame Flamenco Hints at the Mystique of a Fast, Fiery World

Inge Morath Foundation/Magnum Photos. Inge Morath's portrait of La Golondrina doing a floor backbend in Granada, Spain, in 1954. It is also on view at Aperture.

‘’…Festival, que comienza el jueves, una exposición acaba de abrir, divididos entre dos lugares. Muestra de flamenco en las fotografías, algunas de ellas datan del siglo 19. El título general es "No se permite cantar: El flamenco y la fotografía" (aunque, cuando visité la Galería de Aperture, algunas grabaciones de flamenco antiguo se podía oír en el fondo - me pareció reconocer la voz de La Niña de los Peines, la más fascinante de todos los cantantes de flamenco en el registro). El curador es José Lebrero…’’

In time for New York’s annual Flamenco Festival, which starts on Thursday, an exhibition has just opened, split between two places. It shows flamenco in photographs, some of them dating to the 19th century.

At Aperture an image by Ibáñez, thought to be from the 1960s, captures Juan Morilla's stance.

There is little to distinguish tone and content between the show at the Aperture Gallery in Chelsea and that at the Amster Yard Gallery at Instituto Cervantes in Turtle Bay; it’s best to see them in quick succession. The overall title is “No Singing Allowed: Flamenco and Photography” (although, when I visited the Aperture Gallery, some old flamenco recordings could be heard in the background — I thought I recognized the voice of La Niña de los Peines, the most enthralling of all flamenco singers on record). The curator is José Lebrero.

These photographs reminded me why many dance critics dread reviewing flamenco. For despite its costumes and its gestures, it is not really a pictorial art. Its dancing is largely percussive, and its rhythms are complex. And so to look at the dozens of photographs in either gallery proves strange: interesting, atmospheric and yet largely peripheral to the art itself. Only a handful contain any serious dance information. An Ibáñez photo shows how Juan Morilla, poised on half-toe, holds a classic flamenco arc from hands to heel, like a bow bent. A 1995 picture by Sophie Elbaz, capturing Adelina Carvajal in rehearsal for the Dance of Fire, perfectly illustrates the remarkable degree to which the dancer pulls her arms and shoulders back (far more than is ever approved in ballet) and arches her spine while raising those arms in a halo above (and behind) the head. The dancer La Golondrina is caught by Inge Morath in a dramatic backbend on the floor; I have yet to see any flamenco dancer try this in performance.

“Gypsy Dancing,” a dim sepia 1901 photograph by the painter Pierre Bonnard — remarkable just because of who took the picture — catches the easy arc of a dancer’s arm. One taken by Paul Haviland in New York in 1909 (in Clarence H. White’s atelier) shows the dancer Faico, his knees slightly bent, his arms holding opposite curves.

The work of celebrated photographers can be seen here — Adolphe de Meyer, Man Ray, Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï — but it’s evident that they were not looking for the qualities that make a flamenco dancer or musician remarkable. Brassaï’s series of 1951 photographs “The Seville Fair” includes a vivid glimpse of women sewing dresses; the Cartier-Bresson, taken in Turkey, is of one man’s gesture, not apparently flamenco. The photographs by Carlos Saura, like his flamenco films, are too arty for my taste to be persuasive, but it’s interesting to observe his view of María Pagés (who dances this weekend at City Center) silhouetted against a doorway that looks almost like a Mondrian.

A degree of name-dropping develops. Here, in one photograph, are Picasso and Jean Cocteau, reportedly at a bullfight, and in another picture, Salvador Dalí. There are John Lennon in tight trousers giving his idea of a flamenco move to the other Beatles; Leni Riefenstahl in Gypsy attire in her film “Tiefland”; and Jean Renoir holding a pose that could be attached to many nations other than Spain. We see flamenco-based activities, like Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Massine’s Spanish ballet “Le Tricorne.”

But an aspect of sociology also emerges; you can sense the tight, communal involvement among musicians, observers and dancers. Here also is teaching, most strikingly as El Farruco watches a boy as he dances in the street, in a picture from about 1964. Two girls are seen performing at an American military base in Spain in 1959, but the young men aren’t really looking. An American sailor is shown at night before a wall in Barcelona plastered with posters for local dance shows.

Some of the most famous flamenco artists are shown, but seldom in performance: postcards of Pastor Imperio in repose; close-ups of Carmen Amaya’s hands (even in death). It’s good to see photos of La Argentina, showing both rows of teeth in her eager grin and swirling her skirts. The men include the long-haired Joaquín Cortés (famous for his bad-boy sexiness) and Israel Galván (who performs in this year’s festival, and is said to be ridding flamenco of its clichés). Little of their artistry can be discerned on the walls, and little of the Gypsy life that underlies this genre. But you see flamenco both as a source of pride and as a claim to fame.

“No Singing Allowed: Flamenco and Photography” continues through April 1 at Aperture Gallery and Bookstore, 547 West 27th Street, fourth floor, Chelsea, (212) 505-5555 or; and at Amster Yard Gallery at Instituto Cervantes, 211 East 49th Street, Manhattan, (212) 308-7720 or

An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the Web address of Instituto Cervantes as


Fuente: New York Times

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