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Review, 2-23: That's Entertainment
Sara Baras and the Face of Flamenco
Copyright 2005 Anna Arias Rubio
PRINCETON, NJ -- Attending
the performance of "Suenos" by Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras at the
McCarter Theatre February 1 was a completely different experience
than attending any of the other presentations of the Flamenco Festival
2005. The crowd included only a handful of the usual flamenco suspects
and instead was made up of mostly older Burberry'd academic types.
The presentation was slick and the sound system, staging and lighting
perfect. And I admit, guiltily, I was thoroughly entertained. Sara
Baras is probably the most generally popular and recognizable flamenco
dancer in Spain. She has been bestowed with several awards, including
the 2003 Premio Nacional de Danza. In 2002 she was named "the face
of Andalucia" by the Andalusian Regional Government's tourist board
and also represented Dance in Spain on a stamp issued by the Spanish
postal authorities. I saw her dance in a beer commercial almost
every day throughout last summer on Spanish television. Her dancing
entertains me, but she doesn't move me.
Baras's musicians, including
guitarists Jose Maria Bandera and Mario Montoya but especially singers
Miguel de la Tolea and Saul Quiros did move me. Throughout the show
my eyes would leave the dancers and fix on these two remarkable
The show begins with
the musicians on three downstage platforms. With stage smoke billowing
in, they begin a Buleria. The difference between Princeton's excellent,
state-of-the-art sound system and that of City Center (which hosted
the Flamenco Festival gala),
even at the latter's best, is striking.
The cuerpo de baile
is gorgeous and young; no dancer appears to be older than 21. The
women's youth is accentuated by the lack of color on their lips;
their faces are made-up to appear to be unmade-up. The company is
truly a "Ballet Flamenco" -- it performs several very traditional
group numbers, interspersed among the solos and duets of Baras and
her guest artist, Jose Serrano, beginning with a martinete, complete
with canes. The men wear black and the women red and purple with
matching shawls. Martinete is a difficult rhythm and I am impressed
by these young dancers' synchronicity as they tap their canes on
the stage. I fight my normal tendency to prefer pure, jondo, individual
expression-type flamenco so that I can enjoy the tight choreography
and clean presentation of this super-trained group.
The women of the cuerpo
de baile bring in the Solea por Bulerias in batas de cola with shawls
wrapped around their shoulders. The background lighting is a deep
cobalt blue, with gray and black on the stage. This gives the effect
of a summer sky just before a huge thunderstorm, and highlights
the white of Baras's dress and Serrano's black and white suit as
they make their first appearance. Baras is known for the incredible
speed of her footwork and with the excellent amplification on the
stage, her feet sound like a machine gun. But the excited applause
after each rapid-fire burst and her gesturing to the audience give
the impression of a circus performance rather than a dance concert.
Baras and two men, Raul
Fernandez and Raul Prieto, all three in black suits, dance the Farruca
in front of a dark sky background with a projected full moon. Violinist
Amador Goni takes the place of the cantaors. He plays in an Eastern
European-Gypsy style that really works with the farruca. Baras is
long and lean, and wound up tight like a cat ready to pounce. The
three dancers form sharp V's and S's with their arms, and their
turns are crisp and aggressive. In the traditionally male farruca
rhythm, Baras's light speed footwork is totally appropriate.
Even though I enjoyed
the show, I had trouble sitting through an hour and a half without
intermission. After the excitement of the Farruca I could have used
a leg stretch.
Serrano's solo seguiriyas
were accompanied by the eeriest and most thrilling flamenco music
I have ever heard live. The percussionist Antonio Suarez played
the cajon and a djembe drum simultaneously, while the singers crossed
each other, singing different letras simultaneously. The violin
screamed insanely. The singers' palmas clapped a four-beat pattern
over the compelling and complicated accents of the twelve-count
seguiriya. I have no idea how Serrano is dancing, because I cannot
take my eyes off the musicians, as they raise this frenzy to a terrifying
crescendo and suddenly stop. I almost scream out loud. Only then
can I relax enough to check out Serrano's dancing. He has a natural,
earthy, Antonio Canales-style of dancing that appeals to me more
than Baras's slick perfection, but the effect of his more sensitive
touch might make him appear weak to the less purist flamenco fan.
I am bothered by the
fact that Baras includes no biographical information on Jose Serrano
in the program, and there was none in the press release sent by
Flamenco Festival producer Miguel Marin. He has been listed as guest
artist in several of her shows, but that's where the mention ends.
I happen to know that he was a principal dancer in Canales's company
and I think he deserves a little more attention.
Baras's solo in solea
is elegant and feminine, with clean perfect lines and precise turns.
The curves of her long arms and the sculpture that is her back is
lovely to look at. Her solea is choreographed to every minute detail.
I usually prefer a flamenco solo to have more of an inspired, improvised
feel, but she does what she does so well that I am drawn in.
The way Baras constructs
her show makes it appeal to people who might be put off by more
"undergound" pure flamenco. This helps all of us who need flamenco
to be popular to survive.
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