Jerez de la Frontera lies in southern Spain, a few miles from the port city of Cádiz in the region of Andalusia. It is a place of complex cultural tastes -- the home of sherry, horses, and Gypsies. Jerez is also considered the cradle of flamenco, the explosive passion of which is beautifully exemplified by Maria Bermudez and her show Sonidos Gitanos. The Jerez-based Bermudez is a Spanish cultural treasure, trained by local folkloric pioneers such as La Familia Agujetas and contemporaries like Angelita Vargas. As such, she believes true flamenco is simply something that engages you. The physical and emotional control a dancer has over his or her body -- the way the head, torso, arms, and riveting heel-to-toe steps synchronize with the guitars -- is intended to fill the audience's eyes and ears, to help release feelings. The tablao flamenco is also supposed to be musically adventurous, as dancers improvise rhythms with the instrumentalist within set parameters. Bermudez and her eight-person troupe have become world ambassadors for traditional roots flamenco. Their brand is a departure from most touring theatrical productions, a return of the unbridled spirit of the juerga, the flamenco party, to the stage -- as in Bermudez' West Coast performances, which have drawn rave reviews from the LA Times and La Opinión.
Joining her in Sonidos Gitanos are Jesus Alvarez, Antonio de la Malena, Luis de la Tota, Pascual de Lorca, Antonio "El Pipa," David Lagos, Andrés Peña, and Jose Vargas "El Mono." Their music has all the grace and fury Bermudez has absorbed, in her words, "through her life in the land where wine grapes grow heavy on the vines, where fighting bulls graze in the fields, and where flamenco reigns." This "torrid romp on Planet Flamenco" makes its Bay Area debut Friday (8 p.m.), at the Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave., Berkeley. 510-845-8542. -- Jesse "Chuy" Varela
Witch way's up?
In the summertime, Berkeley's Central Works Theater Ensemble likes to stretch out and have a little fun with the classics. Last year, playwright Gary Graves and director Jan Zvaifler lifted the story of the three sisters from Shakespeare's King Lear and spun it into a comedy called Every Inch a King. This summer's oldie-turned-nutty, The Wyrd Sisters , is adapted from "the Scottish play" by Will Whatsisname, the one with three witches in the forest toiling and troubling. Laughs Zvaifler, "We didn't want to be too obvious about it. It's a wacky comedy." Never mind that old showbiz superstition about Macbeth. The Wyrd Sisters opens Friday night (8 p.m.) and runs through July 13 at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. 510-558-1381. -- Kelly Vance
Love, Puppet Style
Gitty Duncan's Puppets and Pie has produced a number of puppet operas, cabarets, and sideshows since the artist and designer founded the troupe in 1999 -- all of them built around the very human personality she painstakingly puts into each puppet. Her latest is The Birds and the Beets: An Unconventional Love Story, which takes place at an old-fashioned county fair where a beet farmer falls in love with a bird breeder (right) amid corny contests and hoopla. The puppet play -- two shows only, Friday at 7 and 9 p.m. at Oakland's Black Box -- is accompanied by the Peoples Bizarre Orchestra, which also performs a full set of live music after each show. Tickets $10. 1928 Telegraph Ave. www.puppetsandpie.com -- Kelly Vance
White Punk on Hope
Noah Levine is a San Francisco Buddhist who has studied with the Dalai Lama and teaches meditation in juvenile halls and prisons. But he wasn't always so focused. Just a few years ago in Santa Cruz, he was an angry teenage skater punk blowing his brains out with drugs, alcohol, and violent rage -- much of it evidently directed against his Buddhist father and the ethos of the hippie '60s. Then he changed. The younger Levine lays out his story in a new book, Dharma Punx (HarperSanFrancisco, $23.95), and Thursday he reads from his memoir at Black Oak Books in Berkeley, 1491 Shattuck Ave. 510-486-0698. -- Kelly Vance
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