Saturday night, Olas brought Arabic-tinged flamenco dancing and singing to downtown Waterville. Gathered in the intimate space of the Common Street Arts gallery, we witnessed amazing musicianship and dancing. I do believe The Magic Portal was opened once again for a span of two hours.
One of the first things that caught my eye when I entered the gallery was the lute-shaped music case on the floor that housed an oud. It is the ancestor of the lute. I was stunned to see one in person, since I had built a fake lute as a prop for Winslow High School's Production of Once Upon A Mattress last year (a lute, I might add, that did not get the billing or stage time it deserved, given the creativity and time consumption of my design - but I digress).
Prior to the performance, audience members visited and took in the photographs and paintings on the walls, of the current gallery show.
Olas quickly created a fantastic synthesis of three disciplines. I've never quite witnessed such interplay between instrumentalist, singer, and dancer. At times the oudist (is that the right term?), Tom Kovacevic, was staring intently at dancer Lindsey Bourassa, and it seemed his instrument was actually a remote control by which he was controlling her body movements. At other times the multi-part clapping rhythms required the musicians to observe each other intently to ensure each part fit perfectly to create an overarching gestalt rhythm.
The oud sounded ancient and exotic. Kovacevic was an intense player, seemingly melding with the instrument, at times hunched over, staring at his own fingers flying up and down the fretless neck. With something on the order of 14 strings, he had ample room for expression.
Singer Chriss Sutherland's voice was powerful and exotic, sometimes reminiscent of a muezzin, sometimes a soft falsetto. There were growled dark passages, as of a half-drunken mournful man, and half-spoken repetitive mumbles like being at a table with a with friend confessing something. His rich and expressive voice conveyed joy and sorrow with undercurrents of Iberian grandeur. Iberian grandeur? Tom, what the heck are you talking about? Well, watch the videos below (but keep in mind, my little iPhone microphone doesn't really do justice to the nuances of Chriss' voice).
And of course the most dramatic element of the evening was dancer Lindsey Bourassa. I myself am a bit shy about dancing in front of others unless the room is dark, I've had a couple of Colorado bulldogs, and preferably everyone else has too. But she was not daunted by the presence of spectators mere feet from her, and danced with conviction and boldness. I have a pretty good idea boldness is a mandatory element of flamenco dancing. The creative multi-color finish-plywood floor of the gallery provided the perfect surface for her percussive footwork. Rapid tapping with stomping punctuation commanded the attention of the viewer and emphasized the patterns and rhythms woven by the musicians backing her.
My favorite moment was when Lindsey was in the center of the room, accompanied only by the clapping of the band members. She was in full flamenco mode with rapid footwork, skirt flourishes, clapping, snapping, and elaborate posturing. Outside the large glass windows of the gallery, I could see some people emerging from the darkness of Castonguay Square. Revealed by the light from the gallery, I could see expressions of wonder and "what the...?" on their faces. They had just exited an event at the Waterville Opera House across the square. They were drawn to the nearer sidewalk. I saw some of them take a few steps back or sideways to scan the windows and door for signage indicating what this amazing place was, where a woman was flamenco dancing in a small art gallery. Good publicity indeed.
When Lindsey's dance ended, the spectators outside joined in the enthusiastic applause. Artistic Coordinator Kate Barnes stepped out and invited them in for a better look, and several entered before the next song and stood along the gallery walls to watch. They were rewarded with several more amazing numbers, and seemed quite content to stand right there, captivated. At the conclusion of the evening, the audience rose to deliver a standing ovation. The performance certainly revitalized my spirit after a day of rainy gloom, contemplating the labor of dismantling my above-ground pool, and other foiled plans.
As I have joined the advisory committee for the formation of the Waterville Arts Collaborative (read more here), I especially loved that Saturday night there were in fact competing cultural events going on, and all downtown. And I hope that moving into 2013 we can create even more of these wonderful moments.
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Olas' music is wonderful, the dancing is beautiful, and they are raising money to produce a film they have made about their music. More information is here: www.olasmusicanddance.com/
Common Street Arts is in it's first year of giving Waterville a big shot in the arm of art and culture. It is beginning to accomplish a goal that I share - to make downtown Waterville the kind of place to recommend to visiting friends and relatives. They are currently fundraising to keep this momentum going in 2013, and the best way you can help is by becoming a member, here: www.commonstreetarts.com/become-a-member/