Theater Review - Exploring the 'Wonderland' at Calo Gitano

Georgia's largest flamenco theater is adding a bit of Spanish flavor your favorite productions

If you can't get away to Madrid this summer, you can still feel transported to the exotic Spanish city for an evening by attending a performance of Wonderland by the Caló Gitano, Georgia's largest flamenco theater company. If you're not entirely sure what that means, just trust us, it's worth checking out the company's version of the Alice in Wonderland story.

Flamenco, for those not in the know, is a type of dance and folk music from the Andalusia region in Spain. Think flipping fans and flouncy skirts, and a dramatic style that lends itself well to theatrical productions. The choreographer and dance director of the company, Marianela "Malita" Belloso, says that Wonderland is an opportunity for those who don't know anything about flamenco, admitting that if you've never been exposed to the art, "it can be hard to take." She adds that the format of the show, which mixes acting and music with the dance, makes it a great introduction for newbies.

Of course, if you already have an appreciation for the style, you will be able to have deeper insight into the program and enjoy it on another level. Malita cites one example from the show where a traditional hat dance is used for the character of the Mad Hatter. Anyone watching will enjoy the dance as fun and exciting choreography, but if you're aware of the history of this type of dance, you'll be impressed by the clever use of it in connection with this character.

Founded in 2001, Caló Gitano is a family affair, as Malita performs alongside her sister Cara Belloso, and both have daughters in the performance. There's also Malita's husband, Kevin Wilson, who is a flamenco singer and dancer in the show, taking on the role of the Red King. Malita laughs that her daughter Kamila begged to be in the previous year's show, and everyone allowed her to participate in the rehearsals, but when she realized a few months afterward that she hadn't been in the actual performance, she was determined to make it on stage this year. "I warned her, 'If you give me a hard time, you're out,'" Malita says, adding that consequently the girl studied hard. "Now she knows everybody's lines, every single part of the show!"

The cast is composed of 13 dancers, nine adults and four children, all of whom study with Malita at her dance academy in Kirkwood. After learning flamenco in her home country of Venezuela, Malita moved to Atlanta, where she has been teaching dance for 15 years. Her school offers classes for all levels, "whether you don't know your right foot from your left" or you've been studying for years. Malita's goal is to make sure there are appropriate classes for everyone so no one feels frustrated. Even if you've studied other types of dancing, the challenges of taking on the uniquely complicated rhythms and movements of flamenco will impress. Taking a class will give you a deeper appreciation for the level of difficulty involved in the performances, and vice versa — the performances will likely inspire you to try out a class for yourself.

Caló Gitano has performed Wonderland once before, and Malita notes that this time around the production values will be even higher, being that it's taking place at the Marcus Jewish Community Center, which has projectors that will allow the company to add animation and other visual effects to the work. After this production, Malita will take about a month to recover and then commence work on her next piece, a flamenco take on The Wizard of Oz, expected to debut in fall of 2016. Whereas the productions require a lot of work, she notes that the results are worth giving up her weekends for six months to rehearsals. "I step out in dress rehearsals and when I see it, I almost want to cry," she notes. "This is magic, this is amazing."

Malita would love to eventually see flamenco reach a wider audience in Atlanta, through both the performances and the students who enjoy her classes. If it's something you've never thought about, it's worth checking out. Just be warned, you may find yourself stomping dramatically and clicking imaginary castanets for the next month or so after the performance.

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