The beat became a dancer’s master long before Grace Jones dropped her album Slave to the Rhythm in ’85. Flamenco dance is a rare exception to the rule: With complexly layered foot stomps, hand claps (palmas) and sometimes also castanets, the solo flamenco dancer sets the rhythmic cycles (compás) of each routine. Accompanying musicians, typically a guitarist and/or singer, follow the dancer, who’s often female.
Cruceta Flamenco, based in Spain, flips yet another script. Composer Caroline Planté is one of just a few women found on the top shelf of flamenco guitarists worldwide, and her male partner, Mariano Cruceta, is the artistic director and choreographer for its live shows. The couple’s next appearance, and first in Chicago, happens Friday 9 at Instituto Cervantes.
When Planté was 14, in her hometown of Montreal, her father brought her onstage with him to play flamenco music in a Spanish-owned venue, to a mostly Spanish, traditionalist audience.
“Some couldn’t accept it,” Planté, 36, recalls, by phone from her and Cruceta’s home in Móstoles, near Madrid. “They just didn’t have that mentality.” While she says female guitarists are slightly more common today, Planté’s success hasn’t exactly prompted a sea change in the field. “There are some girls playing. I have some girl students. I can’t say that they were inspired by me. I can count the ones in the world who are professional.”
I ask for that number. “Five or six. Including me.”
Cruceta and Planté go further than just reversing flamenco’s standard gender roles. Although not traveling to Chicago, two B-boys danced in the original stage production of Planté’s album 8reflexiones, on which the Chicago show is based. (Singer Pedro Obregón and DJ J. Godino complete the cast here; the Chicago show will also include parts of La diosa impura, a new production in the works.)
This cross-culturalism comes not with the conventional explanation, i.e., We just wanted to see what happens when we combined these two art forms! Pure flamenco has technically peaked in its homeland, Planté says, and coloring its future has to happen outside of the lines.
“I know some kids here [in Spain] with 14 years, and they can go much faster than I do. They’re raised in a house where everyone plays guitar or sings or whatever. They practice their techniques eight hours a day. I’ve been playing since I’m six or seven but in a different country, a different context, and I was studying at the same time. I was doing other things. I went to university. I had to pay rent. For me, it’s more interesting to look at composition.”
While she’s a lifelong fan of dance who regularly writes music for choreography, based on flamenco and not, Planté’s personal experience in movement is limited to the beginner ballet classes she took as a French-Canadian kid. “Mariano made me do some contemporary-dance moves once, in a piece we did,” she says, “but I’m no dancer.”
Cruceta Flamenco performs one night only during the Chicago Flamenco Festival, March 9 at Instituto Cervantes.