IMPRESSIONS OF: “Embruja”
At the Lycee Francais New York
Date: October 21, 2014
Dancer/Artistic Director: Leilah Broukhim
Musicians: Pablo Ruben Maldonado (piano),
Jose Cortes (singer), Roberto Castellon (guitar), Jose Moreno (percussion)
“Toma! Que Toma! Que Toma! Leilah!” (Take! Take It! Take It! Leilah!) This classic shout of encouragement, known as jaleo, thrown out by flamenco singer Jose Cortes underscored the drive of this evening. Leilah Broukhim, a New Yorker who graduated from Lycee Francais New York (LFNY) in 1996, discovered flamenco while studying at Columbia University. She devoured everything about the art, moved to Madrid, performed with many companies including Rafael Amargo and Paco Pena, developed her own shows, and acquired an astounding mastery of the intricacies of flamenco, as well as stagecraft. She takes each moment on stage as though it could be her only chance to feel and transmit the intensity of being.
Presented as an alumni event at LFNY, Embruja was designed to transport us back to another century, when solo flamenco and ballet divas toured the globe with their pianists and melodrama was all the rage. In her Zambra, she showed such yearning towards the singer, that she barely withheld an animalistic urge to pounce. With her curvaceous poses, almond eyes, active face and muttering, she plays with a broad, aggressive stroke that hints, perhaps, of her love of silent film and vaudeville, and the call for action in suffragette marches.
She also has a gift for balancing fierce footwork with near stillness and approaching each flamenco form (palo) with a distinct idea. The multicolored program included lyrical piano solo introductions to the Alegrias and Zambra, and solos, which effectively cooled the air after the hurricane swirl of emotions by Broukhim. Towards the close of the program, she made a tender, understated response to the soulful solo guitar of Roberto Castellon, Her audience had been conquered. The flower from the top of her head had been tossed. She knew that we would savor a quiet, intimate exchange.
For the madcap Bulerias close, percussionist Jose Moreno flashed his talents as a dancer and singer, bringing to mind Jackie Gleason, (1915-1987) the large, funny man who played in “The Honeymooners.” A gypsy who grew up in a family of flamenco artists extending three generations, Moreno appropriately reminded us of the source of Broukhim’s inspiration – the Spanish gypsies with their outsized personalities, command of rhythm, suspense, and humor.
With so much accomplished in such a short period, one wonders where Broukhim’s career will go. Where will her intelligence, curiosity, and vast energy take us next?