Carmen Amaya is a central figure in the history of Spanish dance. A flamenco dancer of exceptional technical skills and exuberant stage presence, she was admired equally by audiences, critics and dancers. She was immensely popular in her time (mid-20th century), probably due to her participation in films from an early age. She extensively toured internationally, her visits to the United States in the 1940s marking the pinnacle of her career. The critic Edwin Denby felt "the greatest admiration for her", less for her "first-rate personal qualities" (fiery temperament and thrilling speed and attack) than for her dramatic ability to portray onstage "the realness" of human experience. Olga Pericet has now turned her attention to the legendary dancer, conceiving her latest work Un cuerpo infinito (A boundless body, 2019) as a journey in search of Amaya’s life and dancing.

Olga Pericet in <i>Un cuerpo infinito</i> © Teatros del Canal
Olga Pericet in Un cuerpo infinito
© Teatros del Canal

The dramaturgy by Roberto Fratini is built around the idea that digging into the past is an exhausting exercise for the mind and the body. Like the exploration of the infinite cosmos – to which the production makes many references: the moon, the astronauts, etc. – it can only achieve partial results. The different dancing numbers function as fragmented findings of this doomed task. The thread connecting them is sometimes a bit obscure and puzzling, yet the work as a whole feels sophisticated and theatrically rich. It has many moments of great dramatic brilliance and power.

Olga Pericet in <i>Un cuerpo infinito</i> © Teatros del Canal
Olga Pericet in Un cuerpo infinito
© Teatros del Canal

The stage directions by Carlota Ferrer and Pericet’s choreography (with guest inputs from Marco Flores, Rafael Estévez and Valeriano Paños) incorporate many recurrent motifs evoking the performer’s attempts to capture Amaya’s dancing and personality. Repetitions, very fast but also slow motions, circular floor-patterns and abrupt interruptions are some of the choreographic devices that work well to this purpose. Pericet never intends to imitate or reproduce Amaya’s dancing, but her sober, elegant dancing manages to produce moments of joy and dramatic force that recall those of Amaya. Moreover, Pericet’s potent, meteoric feet during the flamenco sequences seem to stem directly from Amaya’s lineage.

Olga Pericet in <i>Un cuerpo infinito</i> © Teatros del Canal
Olga Pericet in Un cuerpo infinito
© Teatros del Canal

Another major achievement of Cuerpo infinito is that the music is beautifully integrated into the dance. The musicians, including a trumpeter, a choral quartet and a small flamenco troupe, move cleverly across the stage to interact with Pericet’s dancing. Their changing formations around her and, in particular, the kinetic energy of their bodies (sometimes they just stay still, sometimes they perform simple movements, but on occasions they even dance) contribute to create an atmosphere of complicity and intimacy. Pericet is the only dancer onstage, but thanks to the role of the singers, it seems that there is a dancing ensemble supporting her. The vocal contribution of the quartet to the dramatic intensity of the work is very successful too. It adds vigor and lyricism to the range of emotions conveyed by the two flamenco singers, particularly when this aural blend evokes the most joyful and spiritual aspects of Amaya’s life.

The last numbers of the show are deeply poignant. They refer to Amaya’s passing and its aftermath, focusing on the efforts of her soul to transcend. The futility of the attempts to grasp her essence is again suggested in the choreography, which closes the show with a melancholic tone. The limitations of the human efforts to retain the past are a disheartening feeling with which to leave the theatre, but it is certainly one that can be easily counterbalanced with the awareness that Amaya might be fully un-apprehensible for us today, but her memory is still strong enough to inspire choreographic proposals as attractive and moving as this Cuerpo infinito by Pericet.

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