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Vida Flamenca!

There’s hot and then there’s scorching. Such was the case when Madrid-born Daniel Ramos made an astonishing debut in his first Los Angeles performance at BroadStage last Saturday. The occasion was the twelfth edition of Vida Flamenca’s Cumbre Flamenca Festival, a two-plus hour event produced by Beth Nesbitt. Also on the stellar bill: the keening sounds of cantaors Miguel Ángel Heredia and percussionist-singer Francisco “El Yiyi” Orozco, as well as the extraordinary guitarist Yerai Cortés.


Vida Flamenca XII Festival: Daniel Ramos and Friends


BroadStage, Santa Monica, California, June 24, 2023


Victoria Looseleaf

Daniel Ramos in “Alegrías Salineras.” Photograph by Fritz Olenberger

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Teeming with bulerías (improvised dances featuring complex rhythms and a nuanced vocal style), alegrías (12-beat rhythms), and yes, a veritable Spanish dance replete with castanets, the concert also highlighted San Diego-based Lakshmi Basile “La Chimi,” and Daniela Zermeño Sanchez and Ryan Zermeño, as well as their Zermeño Dance Academy from Santa Barbara, CA.

The evening opened with the taped—and exceedingly loud—strains of “Malagueña,” giving this reviewer pause. Until, that is, Ramos, born in 1994 and dressed in sequin-festooned skintight pants, a red velvet vest and a crisp, long-sleeved white shirt, jumpstarted the evening—literally, in “Farruca Del Molinero.” From walking on his knees and dashing off a sextet of whipping turns, to leaping with the grace of a gazelle, the flamboyant, haughty and decidedly swoon-worthy artist was the real deal.

Indeed, the young bailaor, who was a member of the acclaimed National Ballet of Spain and has also trained in jazz, funk and contemporary dance, as well as choreographing large-format shows, proved his terpsichorean chops throughout the evening. And though he may still be a millennial, his virtuosity, coupled with an electrifying stage presence that might very well qualify him as having “duende”—the Spanish term for a heightened state of emotion and authenticity, or soul—was more in evidence when he danced to live music.

Lakshmi Basile, Miguel Ángel Heredia, and Francisco ‘El Yiyi’ Orozco in “Camino del Sacromonte.” Photograph by Fritz Olenberger

And the singers and guitarist, thankfully, were up to musical snuff. With Ramos in another outfit—a grey number and moving to Cortés’ virtuosic playing—his balletic training was happily on view in this classical Spanish dance. Wielding castanets with aplomb, Ramos executed a series of split jumps with pointed toes, and a series of perfect fouettés that was absolutely jaw-dropping. 

Heredia, who also displayed venerable footwork in “Bulerías de Jerez,” proffered an astonishing array of beats, while his heart-wrenching vocals pierced the air with both angst and joy. Tall, regal and bedecked in a colorful mantone (fringed shawl) while skittering across the stage, he was joined by Ramos in a swivel-hipped, finger-snapping duet. (The two men are also part of a movement that represents an exuberant presentation of queer identity within the context of flamenco, otherwise known as, well, performing in drag, in a kind of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo mode, but sans parody, with the duo also touring in “¡VIVA!”, Manuel Liñán’s groundbreaking show.) 

A statuesque Basile then strutted her stuff in, “Camino del Sacromonte,” her filigreed fingers slicing the air while moving in tiny steps or leaning backwards onto Heredia, the latter now in a sumptuous red and gold coat. Adding even more oomph to an already dramatic presentation, Basile unbraided her long dark tresses while moving as if possessed.

Closing the first half of the program was “Y Por Qué No?” (“And Why Not?”), another Ramos solo: Shirtless and clad in what can only be described as a billowing Reynolds wrap-type, er, skirt, he was moving, unfortunately, to that awful canned music again. 

Daniel Ramos in “Y Por Qué No?” Photograph by Fritz Olenberger

Brandishing the mermaid-like attire while deploying one-legged turns in dervish fashion, the Spaniard could easily have been boogying up—or down—the steps at the Met Gala. And, in Cirque du Soleil-style, the trail-blazer somehow managed a gasp-inducing backward bend, albeit shedding his flamenco roots for glitzy showmanship. 

Was it fabulous? Yes! But was it art? Truthfully, this dude could walk across the stage in a Brooks Brothers suit and would still be cause for celebration.

In a veritable change of pace, the second half of the concert began with, “Sevillianas,” as 13 female members of the Zermeño Dance Academy moved in unison. With safety in numbers, these gals, earnest and determined, were saucy and sweet in their black and flaming red flounced dresses.

Ryan Zermeño and Daniela Zermeño Sanchez then took to the stage in “Fandangos.”  Accompanied by Orozco and Cortés, the former looked downright cheerful while tossing off a barrage of machine-gun-like steps, while together, they offered unadulterated flamenco, replete with dips, swirls and quintessential hip-swaying.

Displaying virtuosity of the highest order, Cortés, with flying fingers, then played an extended solo, before Ramos and Heredia performed “Seguiriya.” The male-male pairing proved thrilling in a call-and-response type duet, with Ramos, clad in a black lace top and tight pants pranced like a thoroughbred, a prelude to his tearing across the floor à la a bullet train. 

Basile returned in a fiery “Soleá,” showing her flamencan mettle, so that Ramos, perhaps, had time to don his final costume of the evening: red pants and a floral shirt—and also wielding a huge white mantone, much like a matador taunting a bull. 

Zermeño Dance Academy in “Sevillanas.” Photograph by Fritz Olenberger

Majestic, this Michael Flatley of flamenco could have been a snowy egret as he repeatedly pirouetted as if in a trance. Gaining speed and with more false endings than a Beethoven symphony, Ramos offered one-legged hops until he finally folded the mantone, twisted it overhead and released it. In other words, this was the ultimate mic-drop.

But wait: There’s more! Yes, the entire cast returned in a rousing finale in what turned out to be a night to remember, not only because of the stellar dancing and music, but, as a pre-concert offering, this fiesta also featured paella and tapas in the BroadStage courtyard. To quote the very un-flamencan, but nevertheless marvelous Gershwin brothers, “Who could ask for anything more?”

Kudos, then, to Beth Nesbitt; and, as a post-script, this writer would like to dedicate this review to the late Deborah Lawlor, who passed away in May and was considered the Godmother of the L.A. flamenco community, producing more than 500 performances in the “Forever Flamenco” series at the Fountain Theatre, the still-going strong venue she co-founded in 1990 with Steven Sachs. 

Victoria Looseleaf

Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning, Los Angeles-based international arts journalist who covers music and dance festivals around the world. Among the many publications she has contributed to are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Dance Magazine and KCET’s Artbound. In addition, she taught dance history at USC and Santa Monica College. Looseleaf’s novella-in-verse, Isn't It Rich? is available from Amazon, and and her latest book, Russ & Iggy’s Art Alphabet with illustrations by JT Steiny, was recently published by Red Sky Presents. Looseleaf can be reached through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In, as well as at her online arts magazine ArtNowLA.



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