DANCE | Neither sleet nor snow can stop Zorongo Flamenco

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Despite Minneapolis’s snow emergency on Saturday night, flamenco fans packed the Ritz Theater in order to catch Zorongo Flamenco’s one-night show, Café Flamenco. They were rewarded with performances by not only the Twin Cities’ best flamenco stars, but with world-class guest musicians Pedro Cortés Jr. and Jesus Montoya as well. Though the show was preceded by a too-long introduction and the ubiquitous “times are hard, give money” plea, when they took the stage the performers snapped the audience awake with a sizzling hot production.

Zorongo dancers Sachiko, Julia Altenbach, and Laura Horn opened the show in traditional Spanish dresses of brilliant red, dancing Solea Por Bulerias. The dance was marked by the enthusiastic crowd’s chants of “olé” and “vale,” traditional shouts of praise. Pedro Cortés Jr. accompanied on guitar (as he did for all of the night’s pieces). Cortés, a third-generation flamenco guitarist from a family of Spanish Gypsy guitarists, is also quickly becoming one of the country’s premier practitioners of the art. Guest Cantante and 2007 Grammy winner Jesus Montoya also accompanied with rhythmic handclaps and the gorgeously haunting wail of the Andalucían compa.

Solea was followed by the highlight of the evening, Zorongo founder Susana di Palma’s solitary dance Soleares, a piece commonly referred to as “the Mother of Flamenco.” Dancing in a midnight-black dress with a long ruffled train, di Palma executed the dance with the grace and passion that the form is famous for. From rigid fingertip to pointed toe, every bit of di Palma’s body was in tune with the ebb and flow of the rhythm, and she kept her composure admirably, even when a barrette was mistakenly knocked from her hair. Di Palma also danced Alegrías to close out the evening, with Montoya coming up with some free verse lyrics to accompany her (managing to work the names of Susana di Palma and Minneapolis into them).

The evening’s performance also featured solo works by each of the guest artists. Cortés played a masterful guitar solo, easily winding his way through finely picked melodies. Montoya sang a solo cante with Cortés accompanying; Montoya’s voice echoed with the passion of his Sevillan soul and tugged at the heartstrings. Finally, Sachiko, Altenbach, and Horn returned for Guajira, a Caribbean-influenced “fan dance,” in which the dancers waved large fans called pericones. Sachiko in particular stood out, winding her fan in beautiful, intricate patterns while the other two dancers clicked out a fierce rhythm with their castanets.

To round out the evening, all the artists came onstage to perform an encore in front of a standing, applauding audience. The beaming performers couldn’t have been disappointed with their reception, as the clapping went on for some time, even trailing them as they eventually formed a line to exit the stage, still performing music as they left.

i>Jon Behm (jonbehm@gmail.com) is a Minneapolis-based photographer and writer. While his specialty is music, Jon has a wide variety of interests that tend to take him all over the Twin Cities on a daily basis.

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