The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

May 03, 2012

Miami made Marquez

Posted by laflor

Flamenco, like art and human nature, is unpredictable. But Google “flamenco images” and predictably you'll see a fiery red tomato kaleidoscope of traditional and outrageously trained and ruffled flamenco gowns explode on screen screaming drama. The gowns are so lush and overpowering one forgets there is a dancer wielding those fire-breathing dresses around. Strip away the traditional wardrobe and what's left are the familiar elements of flamenco — the fierce hand-clapping, heart-pounding footwork, dramatic hand gestures, the traditional abanico (fan) and, of course, the extravagant and often too serious facial expressions — and Niurca Marquez.

Niurca Marquez, the Miami-born contemporary flamenco dancer and choreographer, is deconstructing and subverting flamenco in ways that excite and disturb flamenco aficionados on two continents. We met last Saturday at Inkub8, (a Knight Arts grantee) a few hours before her performance that evening to discuss her work and progress during her residency. As she waved me in, we began to talk and we didn't stop talking for the next hour and a half. I recorded the conversation, but decided not to listen to it, because that is what Marquez's work is about — memory and the act of remembering.

From what I remember, Marquez's latest project, "The History House," which she abandoned for a year and a half to work across Spain, is an exploration of memory through installations and site-specific performances that explore how cultural memory is passed down through flamenco. Marquez's theory is that through the deconstructing and reconstructing the constituent particles of flamenco — the footwork, the gestures, the wardrobe and the drama! — a long-term cultural memory emerges out of the DNA of the dance that is beyond generational.

“I'm using this idea of deconstructing flamenco directly,” Marquez says. “It's almost as if the act of deconstructing and reconstructing parallels how we reconstruct our cultural memory — including identity, language, how we relate to the world around us, and even our superstitions and habits that form.”

For example, Marquez often experiments with traditional flamenco by cutting down the footwork from 20 compases to two compases just to see what happens. If there are enough references left in the footwork, then those movements become new markers, new mechanisms for expression. It is also a way to test the culturally specific boundaries of an art form and opens it up to broader interpretation and uses. And even though Marquez has a fiery red gown, her wardrobe represents a more subdued feminism that accentuates her movements instead of overshadowing her body language.

At Inkub8, Marquez performed three works-in-progress with collaborating artists and was also accompanied by her husband, famed contemporary flamenco guitar player Jose Luis Rodriguez. The second work of the evening, “deconstructing flamenco,” was the most coherent and elegantly deconstructed contemporary flamenco I've seen.

Flamenco, which is usually a monologue, instead became a symbiosis between Marquez and Paola Escobar; they methodically challenged each other and our preconceived notion of what flamenco is and can be. The short performance presented two dancers connected by flamenco, but located in their own space. Their movements and interactions were oddly detached, jittery, impulsive and seductive, yet the two were somehow intimately linked by the strands — the steps, the dress, the foot-stomping madness — of flamenco.

According to Marquez, Miami has helped her expand the language of flamenco. "Everything here is spoken in half languages," Marquez says. "Spanglish," I tell her. And this energy, this conflict of languages and the vibrant energy of this city that propels us together, found their way into Marquez's "The History Room." Marquez says she abandoned herself to the process and let Miami attach its own genetic sequence to her work. There may be limits to experimenting with flamenco, but Marquez doesn't see them, which is fine, because Miami won't let her. Besides, when we push the boundaries of art, sometimes new and interesting things emerge just like memories that we once thought we had forgotten.

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