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Flash Review 2, 8-10: Flamenco Inauthentico
Ballet Teatro and Barely 'Flamenco'

By Chloe Smethurst
Copyright 2004 Chloe Smethurst

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MELBOURNE -- "Bolero Flamenco," touring Australia and New Zealand this season, has been widely advertised as an "international flamenco sensation," performed by "thirty-five of Spain's most accomplished dancers and musicians." While based in a flamenco style, the majority of the dances performed by the Ballet Teatro Espanol de Rafael Aguilar at the Victorian Arts Centre on Tuesday, August 3 lack the integrity and heartfelt passion to be classed as true flamenco.

The title work, "Bolero," was first performed in 1987 and doesn't appear to have been revised since, retaining a distinctly 'disco' feel through anomalous pelvic thrusts, ridiculously exaggerated erotic gesturing and a severely out-dated lighting design. With both choreography and design by the now deceased Aguilar, the piece attempts to combine modern styling with traditional techniques. The result is a mish-mash of cringe-worthy moments, with the main offender being the shirtless soloist Fernando Solano, who works himself into a masturbatory frenzy under a large spotlight, watched by the troupe of seated women who perform a repetitive and unimaginative sequence slapping their fans while opening and closing their legs. Ravel's score of the same name seems as though it would never end as the tacky scenes just keep coming, making it very difficult to take anything about this work seriously.

Slightly better, at least in terms of credibility, was the opening piece, "Aires de Ida y Vuelta." Unfortunately, what little it brought to the program in integrity was forfeited by the utter lack of creativity in the way the piece was presented. Supposedly dealing with the origins of Ibero-American folklore, according to the program notes, the choreography does little more than mix a few movements from a tango repertoire with a watered-down flamenco attitude in horribly clashing costumes. A sequence of synchronized beats performed in silence threatens to build the momentum, but without any exacting clarity or particularly exciting rhythms the work doesn't reach its climactic potential.

The last work in the program, "Suite Flamenca," finally introduced live music to the performance, delivered by two singers, guitars, flute and percussion. Live music is an integral part of the flamenco tradition and it was another lamentable aspect that a program claiming the word 'flamenco' could have gone this long without it. Lead by excellent soloists Rosa Jimenez, Lydia Cabello and Francisco Guerrero, a former star with the National Ballet of Spain, the ensemble moves through some more difficult beating sequences and keeps time with the music from the sidelines. While remaining committed to modernizing the form -- Guerrero even wears a sports jacket and carries a walking cane -- Aguilar's choreography at last here reveals some of the true skills of his artists. The suite is arranged as a string of solos, the most arresting of which is danced by Guerrero, although both Jimenez and Cabello perform strongly in their alegrias.

The most powerful performances of the night were given by the two singers, Maria del Mar and Emilio Florido. Gut-wrenching sounds and haunting melodies emanated from them for the duration of their time onstage, at times completely upstaging the rest of the ensemble. Even their spontaneous dance solos at the end of the night were so passionate and heartfelt that they made the earlier 'creative' dance pieces look flimsy and superficial.

Perhaps Bolero Flamenco should be renamed Barely Flamenco, a name which would be much closer to the heart of this production.

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