Palabra Flamenco’s Fox Woman beguiles with footwork, fretwork and mythic fascination

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon is Senior Editor on SesayArts Magazine where he is also a critic and contributor.

Denise Yeo (photo by Garth Martens)

As Fox Woman begins, Palabra Flamenco artistic director and principal dancer Denise Yeo describes what is about to happen as a “conversation between storytelling and flamenco.” These are different artforms, of course – one is verbal, while the other is musical and physical. Yet both blend structure with improvisation. And both exist to represent and be consumed by people gathered around a communal hearth. In keeping with these truths, Fox Woman’s “conversation” casts a 45-minute spell that turns stage into hearth, and forges disparate audience members into an appreciative and contemplative community. 

Founded in 2017 and based in Victoria, B.C, Palabra Flamenco is artistic director, storyteller, and dancer Denise Yeo, world-class flamenco guitarist Gareth Owen, producer, poet, and palmero Garth Martens, and singer Veronica Maguire. Yeo and Owens’ 45-minute two-person show Fox Woman is touring the Toronto Fringe Festival and Winnipeg Fringe Festival before a finale in Victoria. 

Deceptively simple, the show is first deconstructed into its constituent parts, then assembled before the audience’s eyes. 

Yeo opens with the tale of the solitary hunter and the elemental Fox Woman: their meeting, their passion, their coupling and uncoupling. Her storytelling is gripping and powerful – simple language unfurled in a low voice punctuated by flashing eyes, simple gestures and sly asides.

Then comes the guitar – oh, the guitar! Owens’ lightning-fast fingers tell the same tale, but in sonic terms. His exquisite fretwork fills the theatre with an impossibly full soundscape built at dizzying speed with stirring flamenco rhythms and unpredictable tempo changes. One with his instrument, he periodically bends . . . head perched just above the guitar . . . ear cocked as if straining to catch each sixteenth-note pouring forth. An enthralled Yeo watches every move, murmuring with evident appreciation.

Gareth Owen (photo by Denise Yeo)

And finally, Yeo’s virtuoso flamenco dance fully actualizes the “conversation”, integrating movement with story and sound. Yeo verbally re-tells a part of the story, then dances it, accompanied by Owens. With only the most basic adornment, she inhabits the persona of the hunter, then of Fox Woman – and dances their realities in perfect and dizzying coordination with Owen’s exquisite guitar. Yeo mesmerizes. She spins and glides, her powerful footwork detonating emotional mines with explosive force. Then, panting slightly . . . she resumes the story, sometimes with a wry aside, She shifts moods and personas, the music starts again, and she astonishes anew

The tale of Fox Woman – suspended in a space carved from sinuous movements and exquisite music, from incendiary footwork and lightning-fast fingers – gains enormous depth and dimension through Yeo and Owen’s artistry. The story becomes bigger, more primal and universal, growing into a cautionary tale about our relationships with each other and with nature, and an assertive meditation on the destructive consequences of expectation and unexamined assumptions. 

At its core, Fox Woman is an achingly simple, resonant story told and re-told in deeply powerful ways by two virtuoso performers. When you see it – and you should – sit up front, if you can. The close-up view of Owens’ fingers and Yeo’s feet will add astonishment to your appreciation. 

Denise Yeo (photo by Lori Garcia-Meredith)

News You Can Use

What: Fox Woman, created and performed by Denise Yeo and Gareth Owen

Who: Audiences of all ages

When: On stage until July 13, 2019

Where: Streetcar Crowsnest Studio, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, ON

Info and Tickets: Fringetoronto.com

© Scott Sneddon, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019

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