FALLEN FROM HEAVEN
Roćio Molina takes her love of flamenco and turns it on its head to show us a new form that pushes Andalucian traditions into a brave new world and challenges perceptions of gender in dance.
In a silent theatre full to the brim, the audience waited expectantly, holding their breath, for a movement, a sign. Their eyes focused on a lone figure upon the stage, a woman silent, unmoving in a pure white dress, frills cascading down it. Slowly there was motion, inch by inch, then she fell, sliding across the ground, contorting white ruffles about her body, over, under, using all available space, embracing the floor. The audience, captivated, on tenterhooks, as if silence fell upon silence. She looked at us provocatively and began to strip; her dress fell to her feet, revealing a dancer in all her vulnerable nakedness. Hands covered her breasts and groin, like a modern-day Venus born of the stage. To the right, Spanish vocalist José Ángel Carmona entered; a cape was sent swirling around the dancer as he serenaded the audience in jarring Andalusian tones. Meanwhile, our protagonist redressed as a toreador, strutted about the stage. Her staccato feet stamped flamenco beats, hands gesturing and fingers snapping as she swirled and postured, all the while confronting us with an assured and passionate stare. It was clear from the start that this was not going to be traditional Spanish dance; it was going to be something at once challenging and exceptional.
This was just the opening scene to 'Fallen from Heaven' a compelling show at London's Barbican last week as part of the Dance Umbrella Festival. The bailaora who enthralled us, Roćio Molina, is acknowledged widely as one of Spain's great new flamenco dancers and an inimitable tour de force. She is at once fiercely traditional and irreverently modern, her awe-inspiring moves and groundbreaking choreography, experimental yet brilliant. At a relatively young 33, her ambitious concepts have garnered respect internationally and brought numerous awards. Paris's principle contemporary dance venue Theatre de Chaillot for one, have made her an Artistic Associate. She dares to push flamenco in a cutting-edge direction, igniting curiosity in a new generation who may have overlooked this traditional style of dance.
Roćio is one of a movement of Spanish choreographers that refuse to comply. Instead, they attempt to push boundaries and give new expression to Flamenco's traditional form. Some purists fail to appreciate this modern take, accusing the new guard of disrespecting the old. But Roćio and her peers should not be misunderstood. She for one articulates her deep respect for traditional dancers like Carmen Amaya and Mario Maya who have inspired her. However, along with her modernist peers, she maintains that each generation must bring its voice to 'Duende,' the passionate soul of Spain's signature dance.
Breaking convention is not new to Roćio, as a child, she refused to follow traditional steps, always pushing against the grain. She began the dance journey aged three, and by seven she ventured into choreography. Once having mastered technique, she endeavoured to release herself from structure so as to fuel creativity. This inclination extends to her work today. There is a desire to look outside for inspiration, not just from the world of Flamenco but that of dance itself. The texts of Nietzsche and the artworks of Breughel have provided stimulus for past works. She cites theatre Director Carlos Marquerie as daring her to look beyond standard references. 'Fallen from Heaven' demonstrates this ascribing Goya, Christ and Mary Magdalene as just some of the ideas behind the piece.
There were also comedic elements to last week's show; Roćio's costume a fusion of fetish-wear meets Toreador, a crisp packet stuck on her crotch, she satirically grabbed and gesticulated. Her passionate thrusts sent crisps flying about the stage much to the amusement of the audience. But there was a serious underlying message. As one of the few openly gay woman in the dance arena, she was asking us to question the profoundly traditional gender roles in Spanish dance and to bear witness as she attempted to forsake them bringing her an authenticity in both performance and on a personal level.
One thing was evident, as Roćio stood before us on stage, she thrived on every stamp, click, and swirl. With each one, she was not focusing on cohesiveness in old forms and new, she was entirely immersed, for the audience and herself. It was an attempt to find freedom and be true, regardless of accolades or judgement. As the show drew to a close, the audience transformed in a second; one minute mesmerised and then enraptured. A standing ovation followed. Whether purists or modernists, not a person could depart without the performance leaving an indelible mark. And as we clapped and later, after the show, Roćio Molina should have felt free; she is a formidable talent and genuinely original artist. Truly inspirational.
You can see Roćio's next performance at Avignon Festival in 2018. Dance Umbrella London's flagship festival of international dance celebrates choreography across the capital. It will take place from 11-28th of October 2017.
Photo credit introduction image Pablo Guidali