Maria Bermudez FLAMENCO: Sonidos Gitanos and Chicana Gypsy Project Review - Gypsy Song and Dance at the Ford Amphitheatre

Maria Bermudez

It was a sultry summer night and the sound of percussive beats from heels stomping and hands clapping reverberated through the Ford Amphitheatre. I sank a little deeper into my chair pulled a shawl across my shoulders as a light breeze blew around me. The scent of cypress trees and warm earth permeated the air. I stared up at the sky and saw stars twinkling. Blinking my eyes I looked back to the stage and saw stars twinkling in front of me. As a Gypsy violin and guitar played in a syncopated rhythm with the dancers onstage arising from the depths of their Gypsy souls, reaching out and plucking at mine. Closing my eyes I was transported from Los Angeles to Jerez de La Frontera in the Andalucia region, of Spain, the cradle of Flamenco and Gypsy culture. Ah, Flamenco – passion, joy, romance, poetry, and strength. Double the Ah, for Maria Bermudez, Sonidos Gitanos (Gypsy Sounds), and the Chicana Gypsy Project.

Guest Dancer Juan Ogalla

On July 23 and 24th thanks to the Fountain Theatre they performed for the eighth time at the Ford Amphitheatre. The crowd was in love with Bermudez, who is an East Los Angeles native. They welcomed her home with open hearts and open arms. It was obvious how much she loved performing and got an intense joy and sensuality from sharing her song, dance and culture with the audience. Who were equally in lust with her guest dancer Juan Ogalla, women in the audience were fluctuating between sighs of desire and outright cat calls as he glided and strutted across the stage. I overheard a woman in the row in front of me telling her male companion she wanted to take Ogalla home. Ogalla’s footwork was amazing the complicated rhythms he tapped and stomped out were breathtaking. Ogalla and Bermudez were joined by singers and musicians surrounding them just as I imagined they would be at a Gypsy encampment. Where out of a spontaneous impulse someone starts singing a song and is joined by a musician playing along and another person begins to clap out the rhythm. A symbiosis happens and everyone begins to build on each others energies until feet having a mind of their own begin to dance and the energies are twirled together building into a passion that explodes onstage and the audience responds erupting into applause.

Joined by singers and musicians surrounding them just as I imagined they would be at a Gypsy encampment

I do have some critics of the program. First there was not enough Flamenco dancing for me, especially the partnered pieces. I came expecting to be blown away by all the flashy dancing and was disappointed in the small amount of, and the majority of the dancing being more subtle than intense, flashy and passionate. Also, I was frequently jarred out of moments of enjoyment when Bermudez began singing her jazz, blues and ranchera songs. The transitions from the Flamenco / Gypsy music moving into the blues and contemporary songs were not smooth and the styles (with one exception – “Round Midnight”) fought each other. I understand what Bermudez was trying to do in uniting her love of Flamenco with her love of African-American Blues, as well as her Mexican-American culture. I just felt she missed the mark, with the pieces she chose and the way they transitioned from one form to another.

The sound of percussive beats from heels stomping and hands clapping reverberated through the Ford Amphitheatre

Seventeen years ago Bermudez went to Jerez de la Frontera (the official birthplace of Flamenco) to immerse herself in the Gypsy art and culture of Flamenco and has since emerged as one of Flamenco's most influential Flamenco artists. While in Jerez she fell in love and married, a Gypsy musician and settled there. She is active in her community, and has created a Women's Rights movement within the Gypsy culture - AlalaRomi – which promotes women's rights, addresses women's issues and provides opportunities, shelter and education to women from the Gypsy culture - a culture which still takes a very sexist and discriminatory stance towards its women.

Ambassador of Gypsy Culture

Through her work with Flamenco's finest artists, she has become known as the "Ambassador of Gypsy Culture." She was honored by the city of Jerez in 2002 for her relentless dedication to the artistry of the region.

Most recently, Bermudez’s extensive career has inspired the documentary film Streets of Flamenco, due to be released later this year. Inspired by the premature death of her brother, a promising Flamenco dancer, the film follows Bermudez’s journey from East Los Angeles to the Gypsy barrios of the Flamenco world.

East Los Angeles Native

Maria Bermudez, Sonidos Gitanos (Gypsy Sounds), and the Chicana Gypsy Project gave a performance that was raw, earthy and sensual. The level of expertise, devotion and pleasure from everyone onstage was inspiring and was matched by the amount of love the Angelinos returned to these artists.

For more information on Maria Bermudez check out her website www.mariabermudez.com

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