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Giving Tennessee Williams a Flamenco Twist

'Verano y Humo' Makes World Debut At Colony Theatre


Charlotte Libov

What do Spanish flamenco and Tennessee Williams have in common? The answer is “Verano y Humo,” a new dance work that pairs flamenco dance with a quintessential American play from the South.

“Verano y Humo,” which translates to “Summer and Smoke,” is the title of a new dance work created by Ilisa Rosal, and presented Ballet Flamenco de Rosa. The original production gets its world premiere at the Colony Theatre this weekend.

But, the juxtaposition of Spanish dance with a play by legendary playwright Tennessee Williams isn’t what it seems at face value, says Rosal.

'Summer and Smoke' has a whole ambiance and psychology which really fits in the traditional Spanish culture and the dance of flamenco,” she says.

The plot of the play, which takes place in a small Mississippi town in the early 1900s, involves the story of Alma Winemiller, the staid, unmarried minister’s daughter, who loves John Buchanan, the dashing boy next door. But he prefers the company of Rosa, the exotic daughter of the Mexican owner of the local casino.

Eloy Aguilar (John Buchanan) and Raquel Lamadrid (Alma Winemiller). Photo credit: Courtesy of Ballet Flamenco de Rosa

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Eloy Aguilar (John Buchanan) and Raquel Lamadrid (Alma Winemiller). Photo credit: Courtesy of Ballet Flamenco de Rosa

“Being a Catholic country, Spain also has a history of repressing women, and limiting them to certain roles or behavior; you’re either a good girl or a bad girl, which is what Williams’ play also conveys,” she says.

Other commonalities include Alma’s habitual use of a fan; the clothing of the period, which featured long skirts; and – most notably – the character of Rosa, the daughter of the Mexican casino owner, who dances flamenco there.

The production, which blends the traditional art form of flamenco with the classic Williams play, will performed by 14 dancers, from the U.S., Spain and Latin America, paired with live music.

The project is collaboration between Rosal, Spanish master dancer/choreographers Raquel Lamadrid and Eloy Aguilar, dancer Fran Bas, guitarist Israel Heredia and singer Alicia Morales, along with the dancers.

In her production, Rosal is careful to make certain her dancers utilize traditional flamenco steps, although some changes are made to reflect the personalities of the characters whose stories are unfolding.

Providing an authentic flamenco experience is Rosal’s passion. She established her international professional company in 1985, providing it with the mission of presenting flamenco dance in a theatrical setting, “which expands its reach,” she says.

“When I was in Spain, it really struck me how different real flamenco dance is as compared to how it was portrayed in the U.S. back then, or even now,” she says.

“What people see here is a much more commercial form, while authentic flamenco is actually very complex and deep,” says Rosal, who is considered an innovator in the form, having created more than 100 pieces in pure flamenco style, along with cross-cultural collaborations and dramatic ballets.

Originally trained as a ballet dancer, she was a ballet and Spanish dance teacher here when she fell in love with flamenco and decided to devote her creative life to the form, which melds guitar playing (“guitarra,”), song (cante), and dance (“baile”).

Moving to Spain in 1980, she danced with many companies, also becoming a choreographer and coach, but after five years, decided that, as a foreigner, she could never create her own dance company, so she returned to Miami, and founded “Ballet Flamenco La Rosa.”

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In creating her dances, one of Rosal’s specialties is using the works of classic playwrights, she says.

“My fist love was theater, and my great passion is classical theater and the great plays by the great playwrights, from Shakespeare to Ibsen, so when it came time to choose, an American playwright, Tennessee Williams naturally came to mind,” she says.

“He’s such a deep playwright, and there are so many themes in this work, I wanted to express their universality, and flamenco is a wonderful way to communicate this –it gives the play a bit of a twist in a new way,” says Rosal.

With this production, she says she's come full circle. "An American dancer goes to Spain, and then comes back to the U.S. to create a work using the words of an American playwright.”

 “Verano y Humo will be performed Saturday, June 9 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 10, at 3 p.m. at the Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Tickets range from $25-$40. 800-211-1414 or 736-320-6982 or www.balletflamencolarosa.com

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