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I have no idea when José Andrés‘ real birth date is, but I know they’re celebrating the Spanish chef’s 40th tonight at an undisclosed location, kind of like Dick Cheney might , only with actual friends involved in this case.
In a weird case of synchronicity, a City Paper employee met today with a publicist for the National Gallery of Art, who told him how Jaleo, the flagship in Andrés’ restaurant empire, got its name. The CP employee asked me if I knew the inspiration for Jaleo’s name. I had to admit I didn’t.
The publicist said that Andrés was visiting the National Gallery nearly 17 years ago when he came across the above painting by John Singer Sargent. Its name?
I just viewed a video called American Visions: the Gilded Age, done for PBS in 1997 written and narrated by Robert Hughes. In it he talks about El Jaleo. He says it means the spontaneous clapping and shouting that comes like an “Olay!” at the apex of a performance.
So what we’re seeing is the zenith of the dance, at the height of its energy. The man with his head tilted back is shouting. You can see the dancer’s foot, with her firm heel solidly stomped to the ground in a resounding clap against the hard floor. The passion of the dress being controlled, flipped, the audience baited, played to like a matador’s cape with the stoic aloofness of a tease. The room is focused except for the musicians strumming hard their infectious intensity with cadence clipped in staccato beats that mirrors her quick and sudden movements sending her shawl flailing. The collective hands of the audience clap in point/counter-point to the sharp patterned stomp of her heels. The sensual energy is contagious and Sargent draws you into his dark room giving it a low light splashing the shadows high and playing like shadow puppets against the wall in almost a dreamlike feeling. It’s base. It’s primal. It’s gloriously beautiful.
The cross-cultural symbolism of Andrés’ apparent choice cannot be overlooked: An American painter interpreting a famous Spanish dance. I could see how that painting, aside from its beauty, would appeal to a young Spanish chef as he was about to interpret his country’s famous cuisine for American diners.