Carmen Amaya, the dancer some considered the epitome of Gypsy flamenco, was born poor into a family of dancers and musicians. By the time she died — at age 50, in 1963 — she’d had a theater named after her in Buenos Aires and a fountain in Barcelona. She made movies in Spain and Hollywood, and she toured with immense success under the ægis of impresario Sol Hurok. She danced at the White House for President Roosevelt, and when she performed at Carnegie Hall, the audience threw flowers and mink.
Jocelyn Ajami’s fascinating documentary traces Amaya’s career through archival footage and interviews with family, associates, and disciples. The film also quietly exposes a life enmeshed in contending cultural and political ideologies.
Carmen Amaya not only learned all the flamenco forms, including those traditionally assigned to men, she performed them like a man, with tremendous power and virtuosity, even abandon. She not only wore pants as a costume, she played the role of breadwinner in her large Gitano performing family. The patriarchs had to swallow her professional dominance, but they could still control her love life, which they apparently did until she made an unwise late marriage.
In the phenomenal dancing excerpts from Amaya’s films, you see the transgressor she couldn’t be off stage. Newspapers called her the Human Vesuvius, and Hurok claimed that by the end of every performance the combs had flown out of her hair. Her artistry, her passion, maybe even her fury, became a model for contemporary flamenco dancers. (video/80 minutes)