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Flash Review 1, 2-11: Radiant Heat
Noche Flamenca Burns the Night at Joe's Pub

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- The spirit of Flamenco burst to vivid life this past weekend at Joe's Pub! On the pub's postage-stamp stage, artistic director Martin Santangelo concocted a sizzling show with two guitars, two voices, and two pairs of flaming feet that enraptured audiences twice a night with their impassioned Iberian soul.

The sensational small-scale performance in the dimly lit, crowded pub, while people are enjoying (pricey but tasty) food and drink, feels truer in atmosphere to the roots of the ancient Spanish form of music and dance than the splashy spectacles seen at City Center the previous weekend.

Dancers Alejandro Granadas and Soledad Barrio open with tangos: dancing side by side with rapid-fire unison footwork or circling each other like pugilists in the ring, snaking arms overhead. Both mature dancers -- worldly wise and seasoned -- embody the pain and pride of the Spanish spirit with effortless technique, vibrant passion, and emotional interplay that has the ring of truth.

Young pony-tailed Jesus Torres plays a soulful melody on his guitar. His sound is crisp and mellow, and his steely strong fingers fly over the strings, embellishing the simple tune copiously with elaborate arpeggios and ornamentation that augment its emotional resonance. At times it's hard to believe that a single instrumentalist can produce such a cascade of luscious sound by himself. Torres plays with astonishing technique and deep feeling.

In his solo, Granadas faces the musicians as much as he does the audience as he dances. Although his silhouette isn't svelte, he moves with catlike delicacy, then explodes into fierce, highly articulated footwork. Gathering his jacket hem up around his waist, he stalks the stage like a wildcat on the prowl -- or jilted lover seeking revenge. Then he'll pause, hands high, clapping soundlessly, teasing us, slowing down to make us think he's done, when in fact he's just refueling for another explosion. As we burst into an appreciative round of applause he erupts again into blistering motion.

Singers Antonio Vizarraga and Emilio Florido get to display their vocal acrobatics in a cappella arias. Wailing arpeggios in minor modes change textures and dynamics within a single, long breath. Younger Florido's voice is more nasal and melancholy, while the elder Vizarraga's is fuller and more piercing. The two alternate solos then blend perfectly. Their "Cante" introduces the highlight of the evening, Barrio's solo dance.

In an elegant, muted burgundy dress, wrapped with a matching fringed shawl, hair swept back in a twist, Barrio winds her hands and fingers sinuously and twines her arms actually behind her head -- her chest is arched so far forward. She brushes close around the men, simultaneously challenging and flirting with them. Then, between machine-gun barrages of intricate foot-stamping patterns she twists herself into arching twirls. The speed and clarity of her footwork dazzle, and her fury is more contained than that of her partner. Beneath her rather brusque, smoldering affect one senses a tender vulnerability that gives dimension to her passion.

"Noche" is a troupe of veteran pros; they know their stuff and deliver it with power and passion that'll char your filet mignon. In the finale, the singers show off their fancy footwork, too, and the audience screams.

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