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Flamenco neat
Noche Flamenca does it right

Noche Flamenca doesn’t trade in those elaborate flailings and gnashing guitars that audiences take as the sign of Spanish passion. The only performative curlicues happening on the stage at the Cutler Majestic last Thursday night, October 1, when this company returned to Boston, were the dancers’ serpentine wrist and arm movements.

Which isn’t to say that the performance was dull. The first of this season’s World Music/Crash Arts dance series, Noche Flamenca was beautifully crafted to let you see the dance itself, hear the music, and appreciate the distinctive qualities of the dancers (Soledad Barrio and Isabel Bayon), singers (Silverio Heredia and Manuel Gago), and guitarists (Paco Cruz, Miguel Perez, and Jesus Torres). You could savor them all in nearly equal measure, and they all dabbled in each other’s specialties from time to time.

The show’s production values were so simple that only the lighting designer, Mark London, was credited. Maybe artistic director/choreographer Martin Santangelo had a hand in it, too. The stage was bare, with a special resonant floor, and bentwood chairs for everyone. The women wore wonderfully cut dresses that suggested high flamenco but spared the dancers the clutter and confinement of traditional costumes. Best of all, the whole show was unobtrusively amplified. The sound levels boosted audibility without destroying the quality of the music, and the musicians weren’t anchored to standing mikes, cables, electronic boxes. So they could move around and the chairs could be rearranged; this released the stage space from the standard back-up-band formation and gave the whole show some visual variety.

The eight numbers on the program were arranged to present the whole company and its parts in various combinations, with all the performers supporting and complementing each other. Paco Cruz’s guitar solo, in a meditative downlight, seemed to forage for traces of a melody among arrhythmic dissonances and elusive harmonic pathways. Later, Jesus Torres kept to more familiar harmonics but stirred a semblance of a melody into whirlpools with his right hand. Miguel Perez accompanied Silverio Heredia’s extreme quavering, sobbing vocalise, and Heredia and Manuel Gago engaged in a sung dialogue of laments and consolations, facing each other across the stage.

The dancers seemed neither more nor less important in this ensemble of talents. Before their solos, the women seemed to drift in as if they were just passing by and heard the music. Or they’d be sitting in the chairs, surrounded by their companions. In the opening piece, A Nuestro Son, they all began with clapping and singing. Still sitting, the women stamped and whipped their arms open around their upper bodies, until, almost without transition, they were on their feet doing the same things in the same rhythm but in gestural counterpoint.

In Soledad Barrio’s first solo, Siguiriyas, she stalked back and forth with big pouncing steps, egged on by whatever Heredia was singing to her. She launched fast, jittering cascades of heel-steps and cut them off with a quick harsh pivot into a pose. She seemed to be choking with pent-up fury, hammering her feet into the floor and changing the direction of her gaze, up, down, off to the sides, but seldom straight ahead. Then, in a long build-up, she headed for downstage center with a pounding crescendo of beats, and this time, when she threw her head back and wheeled around, a spill of red light ran down her body like blood.

In contrast to Barrio’s containment, Isabel Bayon danced more expansively. With swaying hips and lifting shoulders, she seemed to be reaching out for more space, sinking deeper into the floor. She shook her skirts and pranced like a frisky young animal sometimes, but there was anger in her dance too.

Noche Flamenca, now 10 years old, has had a changing population as it’s toured the world, but I was a little surprised that the company brought no male dancers for the Boston engagement. By the end of the performance I realized that this apparent omission was actually an advantage. The men so often take over a flamenco show with their flamboyant dancing, and the female dancers slip into the background. This time the women had it all to themselves and got our full appreciation. Almost as if to remind us of what we’d missed, during the full-company encore when the performers did little solo turns, singer Heredia swaggered and stomped and haughtily yanked at the edges of his jacket in a parody of a farruca dancer.

Issue Date: October 10 - 16, 2003
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