By Debra Levine
Flamenco is bursting with vitality—a new generation has contemporized the centuries-old form. So it’s fitting that the “new world” setting of the Ford Theatres should welcome into its midst a foremost practitioner of "nuevo flamenco." The powerhouse dancer/choreographer Olga Pericet, a leading light in the contemporary-classical flamenco space and winner of Spain’s National Dance award in 2018, is slated to pound the Ford floorboards on Saturday, September 21.
Pericet descends upon the City of Angels with her five member troupe—two guitarists, two singers and a male dance partner—on the wings of a full-evening work, La Espina, a dance/drama with the playful subtitle, The Thorn that Dreamed of Being a Flower or the Flower that Dreamed of Being a Dancer.
Choreographed and performed by Pericet and arranged in episodes by director Carlota Ferrer, La Espina pulls back the curtain, inviting the audience into one woman’s personal journey through the world of flamenco—her dreams, ambitions, self-doubt and ambivalence – with just the right amount of comedy. The narrative culminates in a big reward: the virtuosic dancing of the exquisite, beautifully trained Pericet. The Guardian gave her an intriguing description, calling Pericet a “comedian, drama queen and contrarian” as well as a “dancer of compelling assuredness.”
Born in Cordoba, Spain, Pericet began her study at age eight. Earning a degree in Spanish dance and flamenco, she apprenticed with masters Matilde Coral and Manolo Marín before guesting with major companies, notably the Ballet Nacional de España. She shared the stage with Spanish greats known to Americans, including Ana Laguna, Nacho Duato and Enrique Morente.
Flamenco fans will witness a marvel at the peak of her powers. Indeed, Pericet’s crackling technique erupts from stillness into a flurry of footwork so startling and precise that she seems to slice the air that surrounds her, leaving behind the equivalent of sound waves.
Flamenco newcomers can embrace this show without fear; Pericet’s blend of dance, drama and comedy makes the evening accessible. “La Espina is based on flamenco,” she says, “but I use other genres of Spanish dance—like the classic bolero school.”
The key realms, she says, remain pure. “When I dance traditional flamenco, I don't mix it. But I am a contemporary artist because I live in the now.”
One of flamenco’s most necessary updates revolves around its ossified version of male/female dance-dialogue. Ironically, the form has long been a playing field for exceptionally strong female performers. But does it provide an outlet, as well, for expressing modern ambivalence, weakness, or reluctance? Pericet notes, “I think a bailaora-bailaor [female dancer-male dancer] of today is not going to dance as dancers did 50 years ago. But the codes and the foundation of the art form are there.” In a video of the work, this petite woman is seen leaning heavily into her male partner, physically intimidating him, a rare sight in the traditional form.
Olga Garay-English, Ford Theatres Executive Director, speaks about Pericet with an aficionado’s enthusiasm. “Olga wowed the critics at the Flamenco Festival in London,” she says. “She is a force of nature, and at the top of her game.”
In co-presenting the evening with The Fountain Theatre, the Ford is taking strides to pay respect to the much-loved East Hollywood theater that for years staged flamenco evenings curated by Deborah Lawlor. Says Garay-English, “They are responsible for LA’s flamenco footprint. This is our way of saying, ‘We value you what you have done.’”
Pericet will surely feel the magic performing amidst the Ford’s flora and fauna. Even more enchanting after its recent renovation, the Ford offers such a special stage. “I have performed on outdoor stages before, especially in the south of France,” says Pericet. “It is different; the energy changes. The important thing is to give it your all and adapt to the environment.” Adaptation is essential, she says, because, “I think the artist creates the audience.”
Garay-English clearly sees Pericet as a singularly adventurous artist. “She is known for taking flamenco into new contexts. And that’s controversial with purists,” she says, then adding with a smile, “But it’s perfect for LA.”
Olga Pericet Company: La Espina takes place on Saturday, September 21. Tickets and info here.
Dance critic Debra Levine is editor/publisher of arts•meme, the fine-arts blog she founded in 2008.