It was very fitting that his first appearance on stage was all in white, the color of rebirth. For that is what El Carpeta, the grandson of the great late flamenco dancer El Farruco, represents. Together with his mother, La Farruca, they brought the raw, aggressive, unhomogenized flamenco that New York is treated to only from time to time.
In his New York debut at NYU's Skirball Center on Oct. 7, the 15-year-old carried the legacy of his family and laid it all out on the stage, right down to his white botas. His explosive zapateado was complimented by precise turns, and even if did not hold his ground after the turns (he took his bursts of energy and walked them off), there was simply no way he could do wrong. You see, Manuel Fernández Montoya had his adoring audience at the first golpe, and that was that.
His mother, resplendent in white too, joined him onstage and showed him how to play to the audience, drawing them in with her gamut of emotions: serious, coquettish, playful, wanton, and angry, finishing off oftentimes with a wink, a literal wink that let us know she knew we were in on the act. Perhaps La Farruca no longer sports the svelte silhouette of her younger days, but no matter: Her sensuality more than compensates. And since this is flamenco gitano style, there is no concern with flowers or fussy earrings or even a hair tie -- the end of each dance also brought the unraveling of her hairdo, an appropriately delicious mess.
At times the audience could hear La Farruca in the wings, giving jaleos to her youngest son, encouraging him to do his best. The real treat of the night though was witnessing the style that provides for the most improvisation in flamenco -- bulerias. And seeing El Carpeta respond and interact with his contemporary, a sweet-voiced José Triviño, was a delight (Triviño reminds me of what a young Miguel Poveda would be like).
A common phrase in flamenco which explains the importance of song to the art form is "El cante manda," which literally translates as "The singing commands." In their fin de fiesta on stage, we can see La Farruca smiling and telling her son, "La sangre manda." Ah yes, the blood commands it. And he returns that gesture not with the smug smile of entitlement, but a smile of humility, of appreciation, along with, of course, a killer patada, just as his grandfather would have done.