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Flamenco star lights up stages from London to the Berkshires

Rocio Molina, 24, of Spain is the top flamenco dancer of her generation. Rocio Molina, 24, of Spain is the top flamenco dancer of her generation. (Anton Meres/REUTERS/file 2007)
By Farah Nayeri
Bloomberg News / March 14, 2009
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Dancer Rocio Molina sways her arms to the voice of an old man as he speaks sullenly of life, youth, and the tick-tock of time.

This is the opening scene of 24-year-old Molina's solo show "Oro Viejo," a highlight of the two-week flamenco festival coming to London's Sadler's Wells Theatre. The top flamenco dancer of her generation, Molina also performs in the three-woman show "Gala Flamenca Mujeres," which is part of the festival. And this June, Molina will perform with flamenco dancer Belén Maya in "Mujeres" at Jacob's Pillow in Becket.

London's strong flamenco festival lineup this year also includes the moving Eva Yerbabuena, one of the finest dancers of the past few decades, and singer Estrella Morente, heard on the soundtrack to Pedro Almodovar's 2006 movie "Volver," who opens the festival.

Molina, who performs on Tuesday, brings her unusual blend of youth and maturity to the show, an evocation of how time races by for the young and slows to a tedious tick for the old. Her style blends flawless technique and effortless footwork with movements borrowed from ballet and contemporary dance, the sharp shrugs and head flicks sometimes giving her a doll-like look.

The dancer spoke of her career in an interview this month in Jerez, southern Spain, where she performed and taught. Dressed in thinly striped jeans and an off-the-shoulder T-shirt, she paused for tea and honey to soothe a sore throat.

Molina was only 3 when she proclaimed she would be a dancer.

"It wasn't the way other kids might say, 'I want to be a veterinarian,' " she said. "It was, 'I am a dancer, because that's what I have to be in life.' "

The daughter of a house painter from Malaga, in Andalusia, Molina took up formal dance studies at age 7, soon earning money from performances that she saved for new shoes or a dress. She moved to Madrid at age 15 and quickly got noticed through awards and festivals.

The pace of her career has been startling, even to her.

"I realized that I had lived fast, that I'd gobbled up time - with a side of potatoes," she said.

Music is her main creative spark. She listened to a lot of jazz when she was younger - Miles Davis, Charlie Parker - and loves classic flamenco voices, though she also likes to "disconnect" sometimes and dance to house music in a club.

In her spare time she reads, preferably nonfiction, though she also enjoys Chinese novels. She is working her way through a book about geniuses; their brains, she said, are similar to those of schizophrenics. The word "genius" scares her, she said, describing herself instead as a hard worker.

Though she would love to slow down and enjoy life, a big "bonbon" has just been held out to her: the chance to have the Teatro de la Laboral in Gijon, northern Spain, all to herself in September and create a new piece. It's an offer she can't refuse. "I can even sleep in the theater if I want!" she said.

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