On 24 June, María Juncal’s performance at the Alexandria Opera House started on time at 8pm. No excuses there. She starts with a Farruca: a typically male dance, but borrowed quite often by the tough, yet feminine gender. The Farruca is the perfect medium through which to reveal María Juncal’s passion for lines and preciseness. By the end of the night, her personality comes through and that preciseness translates into joy.
What most audience members don’t understand is that Flamenco is not the same as classical Spanish music. They may expect a precise, tightly-controlled and masterful plucking at the guitar, but what they get is an extreme in emotions: ups and downs, soft melodies and sudden explosions, inexplicably loud clapping, the artists yelling things they don’t understand and heart palpitations as the audience leaves wanting more when the lights turn on.
María Juncal’s performance included two singers, who also clapped the rhythms (called tocando palmas) a violinist and a guitarist.
The two singers and guitarist sang por Bulería, a type of rhythm and singing quite typical at Flamenco parties, in recorded music and to give spice and energy on the stage. It’s meant to be fun, improvised, varied and is the best time for aficionados to give some jaleo, or words of praise, during the singing. The alignment of the two singers standing behind the guitarist, although somewhat innovative, is odd enough to make the singers and guitarist not gel as much as they could if they were seated in typical semi-circle formation where the singers can hear the guitarist better.
When this bulería finished, the dancer appears and dressed to impress: her bata de cola, a dress with a very long, ruffly train is stunning and perfectly fitted. Solea (meaning, loneliness in Spanish) is her choice to show off the length, weight and feel of the dress, which has a black band down the entire front. She dances around the cola and allows the music, rather than footwork, to reign in this section, preferring to compliment the music in blink-of-an-eye poses. In fact, I would call María Juncal the Queen of Poses as I’m sure that there is not one moment where snapping a picture of her dancing will result in a bad image.
I cannot go on without mentioning that although the singers were always saying jaleo (praise) onstage to the dancer, which usually comes as an olé, arsa, vamo alla’ , there were two times where their sounds were not to give praise but rather ssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh in order to “shush” the people backstage. Through some of the quietest moments, the singers had to “shush” the workers backstage while they were onstage performing! International artists are often extremely shocked and comment on the lack of respect for artists as they are onstage. Among the string of complaints by artists in general is the constant talking backstage and cell phones ringing all throughout their performance. In fact, while on stage María Juncal’s singers “shushed” the people backstage another time and phones rang several times during some of the most beautiful, serene parts of the music, especially during the sad soleá.
When it was time to add some fire to the melody (in Flamenco there is always fire) she, surprisingly, there decides to add more movement to the bata de cola, showing off a bit of her skill. All the while, her singers are cheering her on by yelling jaleos.
To give María Juncal a chance to change dresses again, the singers and masterful guitarist perform a Fandango, a Flamenco song type whose singer typically sings four coplas (parts); each one of them very delineated with an exact number of beats. Each copla is adorned with either a melodic guitar intermission or chorus in between the solos. This time the singers were the highlight and brought the audience on a pleasant journey through the coplas on the waltzy beat of the Fandangos.
For her final piece, María Juncal chose the upbeat Alegrías, which can give air to anyone’s sail. Funnily, although most Alegrías (meaning happiness) are about the sea and sailors - as most Alegrías are from a port city called Cádiz in Andalusia - the lyrics they chose were regarding horses! Accordingly, María’s attire was reminiscent of a Spanish jockey or bullfighter. After a nearly imperceptible hiccup at the beginning of the song, the singers, guitarist and violinist (who added a wonderful appeal) got on the same page and really delighted in the hollow percussion of the guitar and muted hand-clapping to the 12-beat Alegrías.
Although Maria’s personality was present all throughout, like most soloists, by the end of the performance, her enjoyment and personality beamed. She let loose and let the audience have a bit of the spunk, precision and spice that earned her place on stage in the first place.