THE SPANISH DANCE SOCIETY.
Marina Keet discovered Spanish dance as a ballet student in London, where she heard a pair of castanets, followed the sound, and opened the door of Elsa Brunelleschi's studio. Eventually she would cull a vast Spanish repertoire from many sources, but first she went home to teach, perform, and stage for two decades the dances she had learned with Brunelleschi in London, Emma Maleras in Barcelona, La Quica in Madrid, and Realito in Seville.
South Africa might seem an unlikely place for an Iberian tradition to flourish, but Keet found herself among kindred souls, mainly veterans of Spanish touring troupes, concerned with teaching and performance standards. Using the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus as a model and pooling the best of what they had learned in Spain--from such icons as Mercedes and Albano, Juanjo Linares, Pedro Azorin, Enrique el Cojo, and Juan Urbeltz--they compiled six junior, three senior, and three teacher's levels of graduated technique and choreographies covering flamenco, regional dances, and the escuela bolera, Spain's version of classical ballet. The package includes tapes and a theory text.
Other than the escuela, which in the nineteenth century was organized into a syllabus by the Pericet family (whose scions now teach their heritage in Buenos Aires and Madrid), Spanish dance is commonly learned via choreography. Traditionally, rows of students follow behind a teacher, imitating as best they can. Rarely is anything counted or broken down; except for the escuela, the steps don't even have names. So the SDS syllabus was truly innovative. You might quibble with the terminology (I do), but everything is accurately notated, down to the musical count. Classes follow set exercises in castanets (perhaps the syllabus' strongest feature), arms, footwork, turns, variations on pas de basques, palmas (clapped rhythms), and choreography combinations.
Each level includes a copla (verse) of the sevillanas, the most popular Spanish dance. The syllabus contains all four of the well-known regional verses and the three from the escuela, which are not commonly taught. (Castanets do not follow a set pattern; the student is free to improvise.) In third grade, the escuela is introduced; by fifth grade, students have enough technique to master the escuela choreography, Ole de la Curra, as well as the regional Rapsodia Valenciana, tangos to cante, and a contemporary choreography to Joaquin Turina's Sacromonte. Recent developments include conformation of all escuela work to the Pericets' legacy; full Spanish translations; and a parallel all-flamenco syllabus with contratiempo (counter-rhythm), bulerias (a rhythmically complex, extroverted flamenco genre), and other focused flamenco work replacing the escuela and regional sections. "Most dancers and teachers do both lines, original and flamenco, because they love them and will need to teach both" Keet reported.
When Keet departed for London in 1994, she left her classes with Nancy Sedgwick, organizer of SDS-USA; Lourdes Elias, artistic director of the Spanish Dance Theater; and Jaime Coronado, then on tour with the Jose Greco troupe, who now shares the artistic directorship with Elias. They teach the syllabus at Sedgwick and Elias's Oxford Academy of Dance, George Washington University, and Baltimore's Peabody Preparatory, among other venues. Sedgwick travels abroad to examine students, and all three gather with the clans every summer to teach the London course that offers new material and the chance to brush up. "Now I'd like to see growth within the U.S.," said Sedgwick. "Marina taught us so much about all types of Spanish dance--the style, the history, the nuances. It's enriching to share her generosity."
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|Date:||Jun 1, 2001|
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