Theater Department Innovates with “Flamenco Macbeth!”

Extravagant Baroque-inspired suits, Spanish Flamenco music, and colorful uninhibited witches. At first, the audience wonders if they are in the right theater. The play begins with a Flamenco performance, where the traditionally very Scottish General Macbeth looks like a Spanish Torero as he shouts a loud "Ole!" It does not resemble a Shakespearean tragedy until the three witches begin Act I, creepily plotting to meet with Macbeth “in thunder, in lightning, or in rain.”

Santa Monica College’s (SMC) Studio Stage production “Flamenco Macbeth!” manages to combine Flamenco with the classic Shakespearean theater; two very distinct art forms delivering a fiery, exotic, and thrilling show.

Whether the viewer is a long admirer of Shakespeare or attempting to analyze a monologue for English class, “Flamenco Macbeth!” delivers an enjoyable interpretation of what director Perviz Sawoski imagined Macbeth's Scotland would be while infused with the sorrow and power of Spanish Flamenco.

The Flamenco, as defined by Unesco since becoming a World Intangible Cultural Heritage, is an artistic expression which features dancing, singing and musicianship. It has its roots in Andalusia, Spain, coming particularly from Roma ethnic culture.

"There is a lot of symbolism in Macbeth and we used Flamenco to bring out the symbolism in it," adds director Perviz Sawoski. "Macbeth is one of the most passionate of Shakespeare's plays. There are all these murders, these witches, these ghosts, everything you can throw in, and Flamenco has this sense of Cante Jondo, heavy, dark, and passionate, so in that way it connects."

The Studio Stage is a compact, 100 seat thrust stage, allowing for a 270 degree view of the play. Those seated in the first row are often so close to the action they can almost immerse themselves in it, as spectators in Macbeth’s court. This closeness between the audience and the performance requires an incredibly detailed costume and makeup design. Macbeth and company abandon their Scottish warrior gowns and embrace more modern outfits.

The leading male characters often wear statement formal suits which are the very exact opposite of minimalism, almost resembling Dolce and Gabbana’s Spring 2019 collection. For the women, long dress gowns are substituted by pant skirts. The color palette features the usual red and black. The balance between the fiery red and grievous black is constant in Macbeth, which was visually pleasing and complements the play, as it shows how the lust for power comes with permanent suffering and madness.

The witches are often present in the vomitoriums for visual element and constant frenzy. In this production, they have a slight touch of Hocus Pocus, setting the tone for the play’s madness motif. The three of them are dark yet colorful, laugh very loudly and find pleasure in creating chaotic mischief. Their first encounter with Macbeth and Banquo traditionally seems fearful and melancholic; in “Flamenco Macbeth!”, it becomes somewhat flirtatious and playful, a feeling that remains until the very end, making the witches perhaps, the characters who are most enhanced by Flamenco and most enjoyable to watch in this production.

Flamenco Macbeth showcases the many talents of SMC’s Theatre Arts Department. The leading actors delivered sharp and emotional performances, and for a young group who had no prior Flamenco experience, they successfully conveyed the intensity of emotions who are part of this artistic expression.