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Israel Galván (third from right) and musicians; Photo: Hugo Gumiel

According to Israel Galván, “Flamenco is almost an attitude, an energy. It shows character in a manner of speaking”. Galván presented a new form of flamenco performance, FLA.CO.MEN, blended with unexpected and playfully imaginative elements for the 46th Hong Kong Arts Festival.

FLA.CO.MEN premièred in 2014 at La XVIII Bienal de Flamenco in Sevilla, Spain. As reflected in the production name FLA.CO.MEN, which changes the order of the syllables in the word flamenco, Galván disarranges and deconstructs flamenco dance in scattered but connected pieces.

Wearing a white apron over a black T-shirt and pants, Galván starts by thumbing through a sheaf of papers on a music stand. He reads out the instructions written on them with the musician, Eloisa Cantón, translating them to English. They are recipes for ‘cooking’ a dance. He creates melodious compás (rhythmic patterns) through fast movement and dense zapateado (footwork). Galván then narrates, “my sister is gypsy, but my father is not gypsy.” Growing up in a family dedicated to flamenco dance, how does Galván choose his own style?

Replacing the apron with a black corset, Galván dances, blending Japanese butoh and Indian kathak, while Cantón makes breathing and soft wind-like sounds on the violin. Then, Galván sneaks away and hides in the dark in front of the proscenium arch. He serves himself a drink and snacks. The hall falls silent for over a minute until someone from the audience begins to slowly clap. It is a rather embarrassing moment until Antonio Moreno, a musician, strikes the xylophone and Galván returns onstage.

Galván takes up a white porcelain flamenco shoe and blows into it as if playing a horn while Cantón echoes him at the back. He suddenly casts the shoe onto the ground and smashes it into pieces. Backed up by a mixed humming sound created by Cantón’s violin playing and Juan M. Jiménez on the saxophone, Galván struggles, taking the corset off and, as if with motorized feet, makes a string of fast zapateados on the broken pieces of porcelain. It seems as if Galván uses these struggling gestures as a metaphor for his own struggle to find his individual style of flamenco.

Israel Galván; Photo: Hugo Gumiel

Interacting with twin timpani played by Moreno, Galván responds by creating amusing and lively compás using his body as musical instrument. But, not only through bodily movement, Galván also plays the bass drum pedal and even takes a spill on it, giving the audience a humorous surprise. But he doesn’t restrict himself to musical instruments, Galván also jumps on a wooden chair and then onto a carpet covered with pennies to continue his zapateados. Galván’s rebellious energy extends beyond the stage to the audience when he walks down into the house and taps compás on a handy drum in the dark. When Tomás de Perrate, a singer who sits on the stage apron, leads the audience to clap a 12-beat compás, Galván invites a lady from the front row to dance. She dances to the compás so assertively that Galván affects astonishment.

Then comes a gorgeous scene filled with various musical genres including a fusion of cante (flamenco singing) and jazz as well as traditional palos (musical forms) such as Alegrías (a type of palo in 12-beats) and Soleá por Bulerias (another 12-beat palo) with Caracafé playing the guitar. Galván, with a black fringe on his waist, dances like a naughty boy and even takes off his shoes to dance to the singing of Perrate and David Lagos. Occasionally, Perrate and Lagos sit on the apron and strike the wooden boards to generate delightful compás. The other three musicians, Cantón, Moreno, and Jiménez, show great talent in their playing of bass guitar, recorder, and horn respectively that adds a lot of color to the flamenco music. At one moment, Galván takes the pages of the score from the music stand and clips them onto his head, chest, and knees and dances. Perhaps he is trying to make a statement here, “It is me who creates my own recipe for dance!”

The most compelling moment comes at the end when Galván flounces out in a polka-dot dress. As he flaps the dress’ ruffles, he unavoidably reveals the tight elastic bandages that wrap his knees, thighs, and calves. One can image the cost of the hard work required for a passionate dancer to find his own way in flamenco.



Direction, Choreography, and Dance: Israel Galván

Performance: 5 March 2018 19:30 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Angela Lee participated in Dance Enhance in 2015 and 2017, a dance appreciation and criticism writing program organized by the Hong Kong Dance Alliance. She is currently studying a Doctor of Applied Language Sciences program at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and has studied flamenco since 2009.

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