What! Two theater visits within a couple of weeks of each other? This can’t be here and me. But it was. I had an invite from some friends last night to join them for the Carmen Mota flamenco/ballet production “Alma” at Piramide de Arona in Playa de las Americas, and that wasn’t something I was going to miss if I could help it, despite the ongoing neck problem.
Playa de las Americas, just in case you don’t already know, is the heart of grockle land, conjoined at one end by Los Cristianos, it rambles through the original resort, where the teens love to party, and on up the coast to the more upmarket areas of Fañabe and Costa Adeje, where local, island and autonomous governments are promoting their current fad – luxury travel. I’m not really sure where one place ends and the other begins, it’s all just tourist territory, and living here you don’t go down there unless it’s for work or some other, specific purpose.
La Piramide de Arona sits almost squarely on the Los Cristianos/Las Americas border. The name refers to the conference hall/ theater which belongs to the prestigious Mare Nostrum Resort complex. If I tell you that some of the hotels within this complex rejoice in the names of Cleopatra Palace, Julius Caesar Palace and Marc Anthony Palace you will get the picture – a kind of mini Las Vegas.
The “architecture” speaks for itself, doesn’t it?! No comment from me required.
Just to illustrate the “other” side of the island, the one with which the majority of tourists are familiar. There are four hotels, or more, in the complex. This one I snapped last year when I was looking for photos with the theme ‘color’ – it certainly has plenty of that!
On the back of the success of this resort the surrounding area has taken on that same vibe, with year-round Christmas lights, Gaudi-inspired external décor and shops like Escada and Zara – a bit posher than average. It’s at night that the area really comes into its own, though.
As the natural light fades and street lights twinkle on, glowing, sun-burned skins emerge from their warrens, and head out to eat in one of eateries in the Safari Center, Parque Santiago lV or lll complexes. There is a wide choice, and because it isn’t an area which appeals to me much I haven’t sampled more than a handful, well, 3, to be exact, now that I come to think of it – an excellent Chinese, whose name escapes me, in Parque Santiago lll, and Bianco and Teppanyaki in the Safari Center. The latter two belong to the same owners, and they both deliver excellent value for money, but aren’t nearly in the same price bracket as inland. Teppanyaki is first class Japanese – sushi, sashimi, dumplings etc, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone. OK, it’s not the cheapest in the world, but this is not an area where you expect things to be cheap, like I said, it’s the heart of grockle land, and it’s worth every cent.
Bianco, where my friends had chosen to eat last night, has a cuisine somewhere between “international” and Italian. Their popular menu hasn’t changed in years, but they have it all off to a T. I suppose I eat there about twice a year, over the last 4 years, and standards have always been the same. The service is very good, and Rob, one of the owners, is always attentive if he knows you, as he did my friends. It reminds me of one of those better US chains, like Red Lobster or Olive Garden, but without all the cheese! In fact they have dough balls and brownies on their menu.
It had the advantage last night of being right across the road from the theater too, so we could linger over our wine until the last minute.
The Piramides opened in 1996 and has a conference hall which seats 1,874 according to their website. The truth is that despite the ample stage area it really has the vibe of a conference hall rather than a theater, though a better ambience than Magma did a couple of weeks back. I understand that they do a roaring trade conference-wise, so staging this show 6 nights a week, I think, is something of a kind of after-thought, the icing on the cake. Apart from the opening night, I’ve never seen it more than around a third full, which is a huge shame, because the show is without a doubt world class standard. The circle, which would be a great place to watch dance, I’ve only seen open once. They pack the seats from the front, but that’s only fair to the dancers. If the audience was spread all around the place then their interaction would be a bit fragmented too.
However, enough of the negative things, which did not spoil my enjoyment of this terrific show. In fact, I use the word “show” with hesitation, because the format has changed slightly. One of these production runs for roughly a year, sometimes they’ve run longer, there have been 10 since the place opened. I’ve not been every year, but certainly have seen a lot, and the format was always a first half with different interpretations of dance, and the second half telling a story, like Romeo and Juliet, maybe, but this year the accent was much more on the dance itself, and there was a continuing motif, rather than a story with beginning and end.
Carmen Mota, the choreographer (together her son, Joaquin Marcelo), is a distinguished dancer, much revered in Spain. She ended her dancing career in 1977 to concentrate on choreography, costume and lighting for the company she set up, according to the company’s website , and I can only say “Grácias a Señora Mota”.
I will never forget the opening production: The costumes as lavish as those of carnival queens, and spectacular special effects, such as I’d never seen on stage before, they seemed to belong more in the world of movies, but above all the dance, which fused flamenco and ballet and modern dance to a polished perfection, which left me breathless. That hasn’t changed, in fact, over the years it seems that the concentration became focused more on the dance, and less on the special effects. Whether this is a result of the recession or intentional I don’t know.
Last night, yes, there were special effects – at one point it looked, amazingly, as if the solitary ballerina’s lonely mood was being matched by a fine drizzle descending from above – but scenery is minimal, and effects rely now on spectacular lighting – for me much more atmospheric and dramatic. At one point I almost gasped as the mood changed in an instant from sombre to lively, simply by use of lighting.
The costumes have changed from that first performance too. Gone is the elaborate Carmen Miranda style, extravagance. Now the dresses are rich and lavish, yards and yards of material from the knee down, giving a life of its own to a skirt which swirls and floats with each step taken, and above the knee the dress caresses the dancer’s perfect figure with a sensual grace, making the costumes an intrinsic part of the dance.
I’ve heard criticism of the authenticity of the flamenco, but this performance doesn’t pretend not to be geared to spectacle and theater. True flamenco, it has to be said, isn’t for everyone, but this was of sufficient quality to satisfy all but the absolute purists. It’s absolutely worth splurging to see this show if you are visiting Tenerife. It’s even worth venturing into grockleland!
The evening was a celebration of the dance and the music and their influences on the music of all the Latina community, a legend and a way of life rather than a story. The choreography drew on classic ballet, too, with more than a nod to Jermone Robbins, and just a touch of salsa. The music saluted jazz, as well as music from Mexico and Cuba, and throughout the second half the haunting voices of Andalucia, which even when you don’t fully understand the words seem to stir your soul…….and, of course, Alma is soul in Spanish.
As a footnote: Reason there are no pix of the performance? I was caught fiddling with my camera, and very politely told that it was forbidden :=) Always worth a try, isn’t it :=) Clearly people have managed it from time to time, because on YouTube you can find various bits and pieces which people have filmed over the years. This was the best one I found…….just to give you an idea of what a memorable performance this was. It isn’t the current production, but one from a couple of years ago.