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Review Journal, 12-31: Sketches of Spain
Baras Behind Bars
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- Sara Baras
has high aims. For "Mariana Pineda," currently on view at the Theatre
des Champs-Elysees and coming to New York next month, Baras has
attempted to construct a real Flamenco story ballet on a Lorca tragedy.
Theoretically, this is not impossible. Several choreographers, most
notably working on the National Ballet of Spain, have created works
in which the thunder and eloquence of virtuoso Flamenco feet are
used essentially to create a dialogue, the dancers 'speaking' through
their feet. The rapport can be electric. More often, however, the
story has muted and muffled the innate raw energy of the dance,
and the die-hard Flamenco fan wants to say, "Couldn't you just have
recreated a tablao?" In "Mariana Pineda," her latest creation for
Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras, the choreographer delivers one powerful
and memorable duet, but sabotages her overall intent by casting
a talent-less pretty boy in the romantic lead and casting herself
Baras is a fine dancer,
compact and clear in her expression, with a refreshing absence of
melodrama. But she falls just short of the charisma required to
depict (and explain) the 19th century heroine who, as dramatized
by Federico Garcia Lorca, went to prison and her death rather than
betray the revolution and the lover who in essence betrayed her.
(I have not read the play.) A certain degree of zeal would seem
to be called for. Or at least, a charismatic performing presence.
Except for one duet, Baras does not have that. But this is the lesser
of my concerns with her casting herself.
More important, the
choreography is erratic, and I can't help but think this a result
of Baras's divided attentions. There is little choreography at all
for Jose Serrano as Pineda's lover Don Pedro, who appears to think
all he needs to do is show up in chaps and we and she will swoon.
We don't, and there's little chemistry between the two onstage.
Not so Baras's duet
with Luis Ortega's Pedrosa. According to descriptions of the play,
Pedrosa is some sort of predator, trying to seduce the secrets out
of Mariana. Onstage, pantherine as his body is, he submits. And
so does she. The result is magic, as what we see unfolding is an
organic moment, or series of moments, in which anything can happen.
He wants her but is submitting to her will. She more or less refuses
him, but engages every step of the way.
To get this across dance-wise,
Ortega doesn't rely just on his feet. Displaying one of the most
active and fluid torsos I've ever seen in Flamenco, when he prowls,
he doesn't lurch as he advances on her but leans back, as if fording
a hamsin. And when he takes that position, she neither flinches
nor attacks, but takes the frills of her dress in her hands, raises
it to her waist, -- simultaneously revealing her weapons and her
charms -- curls her back, and stamps her response, as they advance
on each other. This happens again and again with the result that,
even though your mind tells you the characters are supposed to be
opposed, you feel the electricity of their partnership, the currents
passing between them. When he departs, retreating through the prison
doors up and center stage, then stopping to drape his arms around
her from behind, she dislodges him, but ever so gently and with
just a touch of reluctance and regret, shutting the doors of her
Mariana Pineda's jailers
are nuns. As they are essential to Lorca's story, there's no way
around their presence, but, costume-wise, designer Renata Schusseim
has got to find a better way to solve this. As it is, she either
impedes the flow of the dancing --- their robes trailing all the
way to the floor -- or casts doubt on the credibility of the drama,
the lifted robes revealing modern slacks and stilettos.
As far as I could tell
through these impediments, the female corps is spiffy. The male
corps also dances and acts with ferocity, particularly the young
man portraying one of the soldiers. The program doesn't identify
him, but as there are only two men in the corps, he's either Raul
Fernandez or Raul Prieto. My unsolicited advice to Baras: Drop pretty
boy, replace him with Raul, revisit your pas de deux with Don Pedro,
have those nun costumes re-worked, and you'll have a solid, tight,
and eloquent Flamenco ballet.
Unlike the costumes
(what's with those chaps, anyway?), Manolo Sanlucar's music, for
12 musicians including two singers, is serviceable as directed by
Jose Maria Bandera, and I mean that as a compliment -- it serves
the story. My Flamenco friends tell me to look for back and forth
between the musicians and dancers, but I don't know that it needs
to be so obvious in a story ballet, where there's not the latitude
for improvisation of a tablao. My personal taste would have been
for more guitar (by Bandera and Mario Montoya) and less nouveau
flamenco, but that's me. Placing the singers, Miguel de la Tolea
and Saul Quiros, on the stage and even in costume occasionally was
a nice way of integrating them into the spectacle, particularly
as the rest of the ensemble was elevated above the stage and behind
the dancers. One more thing: (Choreographers who work with theatrical
sources take note) Baras hired a scenarist and director, Lluis Pasqual,
who resisted the temptation to overwhelm the drama with operatic
elements and instead just created the best possible space for the
dance to tell the story. Mirrors were used, but not abused.
Ballet Flamenco Sara
Baras continues at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees through Sunday,
with performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday
at 5 and 8 p.m. For more information, please visit the Theatre des
site. On January 31 and February 1 at New York City Center,
the World Music Institute and Miguel Marin Productions present the
U.S. premiere of "Mariana Pineda."
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