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Uploaded by : Valerie Gladstone | 06/14/09

This flamenco troupe has family flair
Compañía Rafaela Carrasco performs at the Flamenco Festival 2007. (Jesús Vallinas)
By Valerie Gladstone, Globe Correspondent | February 8, 2007

MADRID -- Three flamenco musicians stand sipping coffee in the doorway of a small concrete house. It's a sunny December afternoon in the Spanish capital, and they're waiting for the dancer/choreographer Rafaela Carrasco to arrive for a rehearsal of "Una Mirada al Flamenco" ("A Glimpse of Flamenco"). She'll present the dance with her company, Compañía Rafaela Carrasco, in the troupe's Boston debut at the Cutler Majestic Theater tomorrow through Sunday.

Carrasco finally comes rushing down the street from her nearby apartment, carrying her 10-month-old son, Manuel, a bag full of baby supplies slung over her arm. Since his birth , she has had to make a lot of changes in her life.

"It's been an incredible experience on all levels," Carrasco says, opening the door for the musicians. Her baby sitter soon follows and relieves her of the jolly Manuel, taking him off for a nap. "Manuel has been like a psychotherapist for me. I only lived for work before he was born. Now when I go home, I connect with him, no matter what else is happening. I feel I've found real values. It influences everything I do. I'm telling different stories now in flamenco."

Like many artists, Carrasco struggles financially and must juggle her schedule to care for her son. She shares the responsibility with her husband, the pianist and composer Pablo Su á rez , who arranges the music for and accompanies all her works. He will be along for the rehearsal after finishing a recording date for a new film score.

Carrasco, 34, takes a seat on a bench in the studio as the dancers and other musicians arrive. She is a small, intense , dark-haired woman, who, when she isn't dancing in her electric and fluid manner, wears glasses and could pass as a pretty and very serious young professor.

A native of Seville, Carrasco studied classical flamenco as a child, and, unusually talented, received invitations to join important troupes, like that of Mario Maya , in her teens. "The trouble was," she says, "that I was almost too good at adapting to other people's styles. I didn't have any idea of my own style."

In search of her flamenco identity, she moved to Madrid 10 years ago and began trying out different ways of moving by herself and by attending performances of visiting American and European modern dance companies. She became one of the few contemporary flamenco choreographers to develop a distinctive technique.

Too often, contemporary flamenco choreographers borrow ballet pirouettes, Graham contractions, or even Hollywood soft-shoe or hip-hop moves without having the sophistication to successfully integrate them with flamenco style. Or they use pop music to signal their hipness without fully understanding how the music resonates. It takes a visionary like Carrasco, who founded her company in 2002, to work at a deeper level and bring the art up to date without sacrificing its essential soulfulness.

As the musicians tune up for the rehearsal, Carrasco gets ready to direct the dancers. "It will be interesting to go back to this dance," she says. "It was made when I was in a very different place, almost a different person. I'll be rediscovering that time when I particularly enjoyed investigating the differences between the masculine and feminine in flamenco, and gave women the men's dance and dressed men in long skirts. It shocked people but it also gave them another way to experience flamenco."

When Carrasco toured with the dancer Bel é n Maya in Houston, she met Su á rez, a classical pianist from Barcelona who was playing in the city with his band. They took to each other and, back in Madrid, soon married.

No flamenco choreographer or composer could ask for more than a full-time collaborator who shares his or her vision. In the case of Carrasco and Suá rez, it has proven especially fortuitous. One of the most distinctive aspects of Carrasco's works, especially "Una Mirada al Flamenco," a suite of dances based on traditional flamenco styles, is the close relationship of the movement and music.

When Carrasco and Suá rez begin working on a new dance, she introduces an idea or movement, showing him the mood she hopes to convey. He then comes up with a phrase of music. "Rafaela has to feel the music inside," he says, joining her on the bench. "It has to move her. I'll try out as many musical phrases as it takes."

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