November 24, 2010 | by Patrick Folliard
Pink flamenco

‘Fuego Flamenco VI’

Through Dec. 5

Gala Hispanic Theatre

3333 14th Street, N.W.

202-234-7174

Gay dancer Edwin Aparicio says he'd eventually like to explore aspects of being gay in his dancing. (Photo courtesy of GALA Hispanic Theatre)

Costumed like a bull fighter in short jacket and tight pants, his heels passionately striking the floor, the flamenco dancer is an unmistakable classic image. Gay choreographer and dancer Edwin Aparicio is doing his best not only to keep the fiery tradition alive but also to ensure its relevancy. Part of how he does this is by coordinating Gala Hispanic Theatre’s annual flamenco festival (through Dec 5).

Each year, Aparicio curates the program and recruits first rate flamenco artists (musicians, singers and dancers) from throughout the Americas and Europe. For the final weekend of Gala’s “Fuego Flamenco VI,” Aparicio’s own company — Flamenco Aparicio Dance Company – will debut the world premiere of “Alma Flamenco.”

“It’s a salute to Gala’s 35th anniversary,” says Aparicio, who is choreographing and performing his new work with flamenco star Nélida Tirado and other female dancers from his company. “’Alma’ means ‘soul’ in Spanish, and I hope to express how Gala has been the soul and spirit of the Latino performing arts community for such a long time.”

“For me,” says Aparicion (also 35), “the beauty of dance is its expressiveness. Flamenco allows the musician, singer and dance to show both happiness and pain. As a choreographer I hope the audience picks up on the feelings that I’m trying to express.”

Influenced by the gypsy, Arab, Jewish and indigenous cultures of Andalusia in southern Spain, flamenco’s roots are centuries old. What began as songs sung around the fire sometimes accompanied by guitar gained in popularity and moved to cafes in the 19th century where dancers were added to the mix. Over the years, flamenco slowly earned its niche in the pantheon of internationally recognized and respected art forms.

“What’s so great about flamenco is that it’s always evolving,” Aparcio says. “My choreography employs traditional and contemporary movement and makes greater use of the space. And though our female dancers wear skirts and I wear a suit, we’ve relaxed the traditional costumes significantly.”

Aparicio, who was born in El Salvador but grew up in D.C., began his dance career as a student at Bell Multicultural High School in Columbia Heights.

“Because our gym class was full, some of us were offered to take a dance class instead. And even though I’d never been exposed to any formal dance training before, I, of course, accepted. The class was very rudimentary — held in a room without a mirror or bar — but I was immediately hooked.”

Soon after, Aparicio transferred to Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown where he was able to more seriously concentrate on dance. Eventually he began auditioning for professional dance gigs. During this time, one of the directors he encountered suggested that Aparicio give flamenco a try. He did and he loved it from the start. Shortly after graduating from high school, Aparicio traveled to Spain where he studied flamenco and performed with the masters. In addition to running his eponymous dance company, he conducts flamenco classes nationwide and is a faculty member of the Washington School of Ballet.

Not long ago, only male flamenco dancers were expected to execute rapid fire footwork; the women typically tapped lightly and swayed their ruffled, loud-print skirts. While that is now changing and female dancers are stomping hard and competing with men in competitions, flamenco remains primarily, a very masculine-oriented art form.

“During tours with other flamenco groups, I tend to keep to myself,” Aparicio says. “It’s not a particularly open environment for gay people. But more and more dancers are coming out sometimes shocking other artists and audiences.”

Aparicio hasn’t yet explored his sexuality on stage but says he’d like to. He imagines a show called “Hombres” (or “Men”) that will feature an all-male cast and reflect aspects of being gay.

“In my head I’m already choreographing it,” he says.

Since the day he was first introduced to Spain’s signature dance, Aparicio’s passion for flamenco culture and movement has never dimmed. Now, more than ever, he revels in his role as a steward of traditional flamenco and excited about the unique part he is currently poised to play in shaping its evolution.

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