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The Northside Grill, A Juried Panel, 50 First Graders, A Bouncy Castle, and Spilled Juice (or) How Do We Get Ourselves Into These Situations, Anyway?

posted in performance on august 28th, 2008
bouncy castle

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in these posts, the purpose of this blog is to give you, loyal reader, a firsthand account (my firsthand account, as it were) of what it’s like to "pursue flamenco" in the Pacific Northwest. I now find myself faced with the daunting task of trying to explain this post’s title. Honestly, I’m not sure how it will turn out. I’m pretty sure it won’t be short. It might also not be pretty.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Northside: Round 2

This is by far the easiest place to start. It’s also, in the sequence of events tackled in this post, the first, so what better place to begin? Those of you who are paying attention already know that Zamani Flamenco played an evening show at the The Northside Grill last month. (Now the rest of you know, too!) This last Thursday was our second night at the Northside (hence “round 2”).

And it went pretty well. There was some minor drama—for instance we forgot the footing for our portable dance floor so the sections kept drifting apart mid-song, and the bottom edge of Zánbaka’s skirt started quixotically un-sewing itself mid-alegria—but, unlikely as it sounds, no major catastrophe followed.

Lucky we are; there’s no denying it.

In between braving these near-grisly episodes, at one of the quieter points in the evening, I was asked an interesting question by an audience member: how does it feel to play the same place (i.e. The Northside) again? I think the question was posed, actually, before we had begun, so I was a bit at a loss at the time. Now that it’s all over, however, I would dare say that the three of us all felt that our first show at The Northside was the stronger of the two. Why this would be the case is beyond me—it’s not like we’ve been on rehearsal vacation since—but it does make me wonder if we had begun to feel more relaxed (and if this had made us less vigilant) the second night, or if we were holding ourselves to a higher standard the second time around—maybe we felt, in a way, that if the second show weren’t better than the first it wasn’t as successful.

Or maybe it was a combination of all of that. It’s a curious impression anyway. We played and danced well, I think, but I also think that perhaps the decreased stress made us more aware of what we can improve upon. It will be interesting to see how next month feels. If nothing else, this should all be a good rehearsal motivator.

Personal impressions aside, one definite positive about this second time around was that we had a new batch of collaborators (who were coerced into dancing a sevillanas). We’ve made it a point with these gigs to get our colleagues in classes and in the Peña involved whenever possible. We’re the three of us convinced that flamenco wants to be collaborative and community inclusive; this seems to us like a good way of making that happen.

(No, we’re not heading down the “open mic” road, by the way (this is still a “show,” after all); we’d just like to create a social space where flamencos that are willing to put in a little extra work can come out of the woodwork. )

A Juried Panel

I know a subtitle like this sounds bad, but rest assured, none of us have spent any recent time in the pokey (well, maybe Zánbaka has—she’s been unaccounted for the last night or two … ). In fact, this panel was actually an audition for the King County Performing Arts Roster—basically a directory of Northwest musicians and performers who are determined, by said panel, not to be complete hacks. I think this is how it works, anyway.

Our audition was Saturday morning, a fifteen minute slot. We went on right after a woman who was giving a monologue in the character of Rosa Parks (she was in costume, too—it was very good) and right before a flapper-era jazz quartet (complete with ukulele). (No, these kinds of juxtapositions don’t even faze me any more.)

In what turned out to be a nice reversal of the lukewarm feelings we had at The Northside, I don’t think our audition could have gone any better. Which is not to say I think we’re a shoe-in. Honestly, I have no idea how we’ll fare. But I am confident that we performed as well as we are able at this point in our careers. Nobody forgot any parts or freaked out in a fit of nerves. We haven’t heard back from the folks at the roster yet, but, having put on as good a show as we are able, I don’t think any of us will be disappointed either way. It’s hard to say exactly what they’re looking for. But it’s a good feeling knowing that, all else being equal, we gave an accurate representation of who we are and what we can do.

50 First Graders, A Bouncy Castle, etc.

And here comes the strange part. Earlier in the month, we had been contacted about playing a “Sangria and Tapas” party. Of course, we said, we’d love to! What could be more appropriate? We were advised that there would be children there (which I suppose meant “no nudity”), but that was fine—they’re people too, I guess. “Children” in this case, however, meant roughly 50 children, all somewhere near first-grade age (whatever age that is).

This was fine, too—we’ve learned nothing by now if not to roll with the punches (even the tiny hyperactive ones). We were scheduled to start at 7:30 so we arrived a bit before 7:00. The idea was for us to play on the back deck, right next to—yes, you guessed it—a giant inflatable bouncy castle. The party’s hosts were very cool and considerate and arranged for the castle to be evacuated and its air compressor turned off before we started. I think initially the children were excited about the prospect of having “flamenco dancers” (whatever those were) at the party, but with the deflation of those bright, primary colored castle walls, so too fell the faces of fifty would-rather-be-bouncing first-graders.

They were troopers through the sevillanas (the first song). I think the frilly dresses and the distraction of the castanets helped buoy those notorious (and epically short) juvenile attention spans. By the time they realized there was to be a second number (our guajira)—during which time the bouncy abode would remain pancake-flat—I could see that we were going to lose them.

The tangos (song three) passed before ever increasingly impatient eyes. For the fourth song, the alegrias, I had the brilliant idea to tell them about jaleo. The net result was that about every fourth compás, one of them would shout “one … two … three …” then about ten of them would shout “olé!” Sure, this sounds kind of cute now, but remember that none of them were listening to the music (i.e. the randomness of olé intervals was the jaleo equivalent of Brownian motion in particle physics).

Luckily, the olé contingent forgot about this game by about the silencio and started running around in frantic screaming circles with too-full and sloshing cups of juice (or was it sangria? I’m no longer sure … . ). The girls and I made it through our buleria (and thus our 30 minutes, fulfilling our contract) and brought the bouncy-house moratorium to a none-too-soon end.

And so we wrapped up what was for us our busiest week yet. As we packed up, our hosts were again a paragon of graciousness: perhaps they should have had us start earlier; maybe we can do it again next year. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I wouldn’t do an event like this again. I think if nothing else we learned some important programming lessons here (i.e. short songs, lots of props, juice resistant everything). And after all, next year the little bouncers will be in second grade—and that’s a whole different ball game, right?

Now you: go play! (And then go have some "juice"!)

~A

tags: zamani, northside grill, bouncy castle
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