How do you get an overweight, out-of-shape Jewish lady “of a certain age” to join a flamenco class?
You nag. You nudge. You kvetch. You promise her ice cream.
Or you take her to see Stephen Sachs’ new play “Heart Song” at The Fountain Theatre. Sachs, The Fountain Theatre’s co-founder and co-artistic director, has had a string of award-winning plays in recent years (including “Cyrano” and “Bakersfield Mist”), but this latest is in reality a love sonnet to a dance medium he obviously adores.
With the guidance of its producing artistic director Deborah Lawlor, the Fountain has become the prime producer of flamenco music and dance in Los Angeles — some 500 concerts since 1990 — and the popular Forever Flamenco series, now in its ninth year.
For “Heart Song” the Fountain has brought back to its stage Maria Bermudez, the renowned dancer and choreographer from Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. In a nearly mystical performance she sets the stage for the production, introducing the historical background and attitudes of the Gypsies whose dance form it is. And then she shows us how it’s done.
For her six acolyte/students Bermudez has imbued them not only with the intricacies of the dance and music, but also with the appropriate Gypsy emotions involved. It is these poetic outbursts that the dancers share which convince Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) to take a chance on letting herself go.
Rochelle is what an earlier generation might call a “sad sack.” Never married, no children, and having lost her mother within the year, she is without emotional support and literally at loose ends.
Seeing her desperation, her masseuse, Tina (Tamlyn Tomita), suggests she join the flamenco class. Actually, “suggests” isn’t the right word. “Hounds” is more like it. Its formalized movements, Tina insists, are designed to free the dancer, body and soul, and “wake up what is sleeping.”
And so, with great trepidation, Rochelle goes to class, loses her inhibitions and winds up dancing at Radio City Music Hall!
No, not quite. But she does wind up stamping her feet and swishing her shawl with her new friends and inspiring the audience to think about flamenco as a cure for what ails you.
Flamenco is a song you sing from the heart, as one of the dancers puts it, and Sachs has written a paean to flamenco that is well worth singing. And well worth watching.
“Heart Song” is directed by Shirley Jo Finney.
The play runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., in Los Angeles. For tickets, call (323) 663-1525 or visit www.FountainTheatre.com.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.