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Frankenstein’s Alegrías and the Wall-to-Wall Misery

posted in performance on february 12th, 2008
sunflowers

Have you ever had one of those evenings where, when all was said and done and you finally connected beleaguered head to fluffy pillow, you said to yourself: Today existed for no other reason than to create an "unclassifiable" blog entry? If so, you already know something about my Friday. Listen:

Zanbaka and I (otherwise known as Zamani Flamenco) had, some weeks ago, agreed to perform a short set at an elementary school benefit in South Seattle. The performance was part of a Hispanic Cultural night: an evening replete with crafts, food, and performance genres from all corners of the world (all Spanish speaking corners, that is). We knew the glamor factor here would be pretty low, but it sounded like a decent thing to do all the same.

We met at our friend Evie’s dance studio in West Seattle to put the finishing touches on our alegrías arrangement before heading to the venue. Being the sensible folks we are, we decided to ride over together. We eventually made our way to the school (I’ll spare you the details on Z’s navigation skills, but let me say that if a sandwich and Z were both lost in a paper bag, I’d put my money on the sandwich finding its way out first) and wandered into the already hopping fiesta.

So far so good, right? We arrive on time, Z heads off to monopolize a stubby gradeschool bathroom stall for dancerly preparation purposes, and I meander around trying to look "flamenco" enough so that our contact will eventually pick me out and give me the rundown. Soon enough I am located by the evening’s cheerful organizer. The show is running a bit late, but this is neither a surprise nor a problem. I relax and enjoy the act currently on stage—a phalanx of girls in white dresses that seem to be dancing with candles on their heads. Who knew?

And then I see it. The carpet. All over the stage: wall to wall, footlight to backdrop. For those of you unfamiliar with Flamenco Dance, this might seem to be a minor inconvenience, a slight bother. The initiated, however, will immediately recognize the gravity of this situation. The flamenco dancer, you see, is fond of noise – particularly when he or she is the source. Those pretty shoes they wear? They have metal taps and nails in the soles and heels: they are made to be loud – and that’s the way the dancer likes it.

Suffice it to say that Zanbaka is nonplussed at this carpeted catastrophe. Once the murderous twitching stops, we switch into pragmatic mode. What the hell are we going to do? We had already planned on a short set – four Sevillanas and the alegrías. The Sevillanas we’ll leave be; they won’t be great on carpet, but as there’s a lot of full body movement, the dance can be salvaged all the same. The alegrías, however, is a different story: whole stretches of it are made up entirely of footwork. Footwork that wants to be expressive, dynamic – and, above all, loud.

So, pen and paper in hand, we retire to a classroom to do some on-the-fly emergency choreography. I pull up a pint sized chair and Z – miserable – tries in vain to get any expression at all out of industrial-grade berber. (Here, guitarists, is where some knowledge of how a song fits together is vital: Having constructed the arrangement ourselves, we knew how to stitch back together those of our amputated sections that could be saved – a sort of Frankenstein’s Alegrías. I can’t imagine the sort of musical misery I would have been in if this had been a piece of someone else’s that I had simply memorized.)

Luckily – and despite the frequent homicidal tendencies I like to attribute to Zanbaka – we both manage to find a lot to laugh about in the whole situation. We stitch up the last of our ill-fated monster and venture out. It takes us a minute to realize that we are already being announced (all of the announcing is done in Spanish, and, while I won’t vouch for Z, I can assure you that my Spanish is a limited collection of flamenco terms and drink orders), but we eventually find our way on stage. I get miked and settled and start the first Sevillana. Z comes out from the wings a few bars in and starts to dance – and it’s all I can do to maintain my composure: everything looks right, but it sounds like she’s dancing in fuzzy slippers. Instead of the "crack, crack – wham!" I’m used to, all I can hear is "fmph, fmph – whhhm; fmph, fmph."

How sad.

As we finish the fourth Sevillana, I catch Z’s eye: "Do you want to do the – " but I don’t even get to finish the question: her "no" is of Obamian clarity and unimpeachable finality. And it isn’t a bad call: not only is a silent alegrías morally reprehensible (and, I believe, illegal in the State of Utah), but our audience is out, most of them, well past their bedtimes. We take our bow, collect a lovely bouquet of sunflowers (pictured above), and exit like we’ve done just what we had planned to do all along.

Still chuckling, we begin the trip back to Evie’s studio. It doesn’t take long, however, before we realize that the route we took in won’t work the other way: after a series of one-ways, on-ramps and drawbridges, we finally end up in some sort of Grisham-esque industrial area. The road we were on – which I still don’t know the name of and couldn’t find again if I tried – seemed to be going in roughly the right direction until it stopped at a train: as in, we’re driving along and then, out of the dank, as it were, there, in front of us, immobile and perpendicular to our path, is a freight train. So now we’re under a bridge, surrounded by dark and warehouses, and we’ve pulled up at a train. There is a mid-80’s sedan next to us – unoccupied, but engine running. Another car materializes and then just as fast disappears down a one-way – going the wrong way.

This situation appears, for all intents and purposes, iffy. Z and I assess our options. The way we came, theoretically, should lead us at least back to the highway, but there were enough turns and one-ways that neither of us particularly relish that option. The one-way seems a poor choice for all the obvious dark-night-in-an-unfamiliar-area reasons. So we choose choice "C": a road that runs parallel to our parked train, in roughly the direction we need to go.

Except that this isn’t the "parallel" my high-school geometry teacher ("Dino" – yes, really) taught me: these lines eventually meet. And – of course – just as we realize that we are being surreptitiously wedged between a chain link fence to our left and our immobile train to our right, said train starts moving. Although I’m certain we aren’t physically on any tracks ourselves, this is a disconcerting feeling nonetheless. Actual danger notwithstanding, I can attest that in certain situations a shift into reverse and a healthy dose of accelerator occurs on the level of the peripheral nervous system (i.e with no help from any synapses above the shoulders).

A little rattled – but otherwise unpulverized – we eventually make our way back the Evie’s. And – as if just to show us that whatever malevolent mastermind engineered this evening also has a sense of humor – wine. Perhaps my favorite part of the whole evening, however, is Z’s response to Evie’s query about "how it went." Says Z: "It was like a premature ejaculation."

Not exactly one to mince words, that Z.

Speaking of word mincing, Zanbaka’s accounts of our carpet and traffic shenanigans can be found here – though no matter what she says, I’ve still got my money on that sandwich!

~A.

tags: carpet, zamani
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