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Flash Review 1, 4-23: Ole!
National Ballet of Spain is Back with Andres

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- At City Center on Saturday, National Ballet of Spain proved that some governments can do things right when it comes to culture. BNE (Ballet Nacional Espagna) presented a wide selection of dances, including relatively new artistic director Elvira Andres's "Mujeres." The company's foreseeable artistic future looks bright judging by Andres's blending of respect for tradition and theatrical invention.

"Mujeres" (1993) is also the name of the company led by Andres prior to her appointment to NBS. Each of the six works on the program was strong in its own right, but this one -- featuring six women -- was especially haunting. Whether the dancers strode across the stage, which they did repeatedly, or performed arabesques or turns, their line was clean, simple, and done with ardent purpose. They seemed to be searching for something and yet at peace, solo -- or in a group, rushing across the stage with arched backs and arms pulled back in curves to accentuate their posture. The costumes, floor-length grise gowns, had contrasting piping sewn to wryly highlight the female anatomy, front and back. "Mujeres" combined uniquely Spanish elements with broader strains of contemporary dance.

By contrast, "Estampio," in a world premiere choreographic interpretation by Andres, featured ten men in a striking show of machismo. Primitivo Daza and Alberto Ferrero wore bright red jackets (the others wore more muted tones) and stitched fancier patterns with their feet, tapping the floor with their toe boxes and moving through passes. Two lines of men moved forward and backward, holding their waistcoats with one hand while the other arm circled frontward like the hands of a clock. They were accompanied by live musicians. "Entreverao (Farruca)" also was performed to live music. Choreographed by Manuel Santiago Maya "Manolete," this solo (performed on Saturday by Oscar Jimenez) showed the combination of flamenco and classical Spanish dance for which Manolete is recognized. Intricate footwork alternated with big, lunging, sideward chassees with the arms in fourth position forming a halo about the torso. Arms were often used to delineate a strong negative space to better frame the torso.

Mayte Bajo choreographed and performed "De Azabache y Plata," a company premiere. Bajo's signature became her entrances, in which her remarkably arched feet kicked out from under her gown. To taped music with a jazzy flair, she showed impressive range with castanets, adding another aural texture and to the nuanced mix. She repeated her arch-first gliding walk to open the second movement of "Concierto de Aranjuez," an homage to musician Joaquin Rodrigo, choreographed by Pilar Lopez in 1952. A social gathering set in a garden, the piece was notable for the air of rigid formality throughout its three sections. Court dances mixed with courtship dances, and the elaborate costumes were festive, although their candy colors and reliance on satin and tulle recalled the garb of a poorly conceived wedding party. In the third movement, all the dancers wore white formal dress with gold accents. The setting shifted to an interior ballroom, where the pinched movement exacerbated the claustrophobic, arid atmosphere. It felt like the period piece it was.

One dancer lost her slippers after a quick chassee combination crossing the stage twice, but had the presence of mind not to miss a step. (Unfortunately, you would have thought she'd lost her dress the way the audience carried on, even applauding as one errant shoe was chucked offstage.)

"Grito" (1997), which closed the program, was choreographed by Antonio Canales and featured eight musicians seated across the upstage wall, forming a backdrop. Soulful vocalise was woven throughout the piece, combining with funky percussion, guitars and flute. "Grito" combined an impressive variety of scenes, from large groups of women and men, to a trio of men (Mariano Bernal, Jesus Cordoba, and Christian Lozano), and finally one regal woman, Esther Jurado. Jurado walked leading with her hips, and her castanet-free hands were especially delicate. The three men danced in boxes of light, the water slicking their hair centrifugally spinning off their heads, mixing with sweat. They embodied the controlled power of flamenco.

Since its founding in 1978, BNE's directors have been appointed by what is most recently called "the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, acting on the proposal of the National Institute for the Performing Arts." Sounds like a potential bureacratic minefield, but the result in this case is a success: the preservation of some traditional works and an ongoing devotion to the pure vernacular dance heritage of Spain, a rich and priceless resource.

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