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Half-Flashed Review, 1-25: Flamenco Classic
Some Reflections on Flamenco and Concert Dance, via Antonio Marquez

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- "Half-Flashed" because the night I attended the performance of Compagnie Antonio Marquez at the Amphitheatre Bastille, an encore visit after the troupe thrilled Parisians last season, I had the dreaded gastro that's been not-so-thrilling Paris since the holidays, and decided it was better to leave voluntarily at the interval than involuntarily and, as a critic, noticeably during the second half. Donc, what follows can't presume to be a fair critique, so let's call it a reaction to what I did see, and a meditation on when and why flamenco works, as well as an ongoing endorsement of the vision of the Brigitte Lefevre, the dance director of the Paris Opera, which invited Marquez here.

When it comes to flamenco in the concertized, formally choreographed sense, Antonio Marquez is a pro. If he's not quite the male equivalent of his former National Ballet of Spain partner Lola Greco -- that's not to be found in this world! -- when it comes to channelling duende, the spirit of the earth that possesses and communicates through the most enthralling flamenco performers, on the charisma scale he's about a hundred on a scale of same. His over the top ebullience -- Marquez appears not to come from the wear-your-suffering-on-your-face school of flamenco -- is a little hard to totally buy into in an intimate setting, in the same way that it might be hard to see a movie star up close. But those who know better than I assure me his enthusiasm is genuine, and to the audience at the intimate if cold downstairs theater of the Bastille last Friday, it was definitely infectious.

The reason it is apt to consider Marquez in the same light as Greco is that neither is strictly a "flamenco" dancer. Rather, while it's a part of their training and to some degree heritage, both are also classically trained, and spent most of their careers dancing dramatic works, as opposed to presenting raw unbridled gypsy dancing displays on the tables of tiny smokey cafes. Speaking with the feet is still essential to the works of NBS, and to the expressiveness of both these artists. But they also take on dramatic roles, in formal choreographies.

The first work presented by Marquez's company on the Bastille program falls into this category -- Jose Granero's 1996 "Reencuentros" is loosely a story, trying to both encompass flamenco and utilize it to advance the action. Solos and duets alternate with group work for the about five women and five men. SIGNIFICANT looks are exchanged, often when the players in one tableau are exiting to make room for those in another. And yet the group segments in particular often fall flat.

For me, this was because the music in this section was recorded. It couldn't have been a money-saver; live musicians appeared in the longer second act. I'm guessing perhaps the complexity of Emilio de Diego's original score dictated this. While it's dominated by guitars, there's also the occasional piano and maybe even synthesizer. This explanation is logical and as rule might even be justified, but the work itself, the dance, was not so original that, me-thinks, another equivalent or better work which could have employed live musicians couldn't have been substituted.

And I think that precisely because there were no live musicians to interact with for this piece, the dramatic expressions and takes of the performers felt forced. Even the dancing at times felt like an over-reaction to an essentially flat (Mark Morris might say "If it's not live, it's dead!") musical presentation.

For the war-horse and show-stopper solo "Zapateado de Sarasate," however, that the music was recorded was understandable and even welcome. Like the original 1946 Felipe Sanchez dance given a new version by Marquez in 1996, Pablo Sarasate's 1878 composition for violin and piano is a charming, even entrancing curio -- a trip back into the past. Marquez's aura here -- firey but at the same time formal -- also evokes this atmosphere, a throwback -- I'm only guessing, of course -- to the presentation of Antonio Ruiz Soler in the original.

In this piece, about ten minutes long, Marquez comes off with a bravado in the way it works best by flamenco performers giving bravura, virtuoso performances: not much arrogance about his feats/feets, but marvelling at these demonstrations with the rest of us, with the pride a father might have in his children. During a segment when the music pauses and it's just the live performer, we see a ripple that starts as a tremor isolated in a heel rising and falling ever so slowly, before rippling iinto the ball of the foot, through his ankle, and up his lower leg, until this is shaking, which we know only through the quaking of the material and the percussion generated by his heel increasing to 120 bpm , as the rest of his body is utterly still.

"Look at these feet, folks, aren't they incredible?!" Marquez seems to be saying, with pride but without arrogance. Or, to use an expression coined long ago by another critic, his manner is not so much 'Watch me dancing" as "Watch this dance."

This too seems to be the splendid clarion call of Ms. Lefevre. I've said it before but it's worth seeing again: This is a directrice with a curatorial vision -- a captain with a map of where she wants to take us on this season's voyage. And that itinerary takes us from the historical, e.g. three Ballets Russes-related programs; to the new wave, e.g. Blanca Li and, coming soon, a new evening-length version of "Wuthering Heights" from etoile Kader Belarbi; to contemporary classics like Roland Petit's "Clavigo" and Mats Ek's "Giselle," and to grand-scale curios such as La Scala Ballet's "Excelsior."

After one-half viewing I can't presume to venture an opinion on Marquez's vision for his much younger company. But perhaps I can offer two humble suggestions: 1, commission a choreographer like Marco Berriel, with a lineage in both classical ballet and flamenco, to create his company's next flamenco ballet. And two, find a partner who is at least his equal in stature and charisma -- perhaps a Lola Greco. I think Mr. Marquez can take the heat. He's also at that fleeting juncture in a dance artist's career -- about 39 years old -- where he can offer both physical prowess and dramatic power, and I look forward his taking advantage of this.

Compagnie Antonio Marquez performs at the Amphitheatre Bastille again tonight at 10:15 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m., and Sunday at 8 p.m.

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