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Review, 5-19: Voyeurs to the Affairs of the Heart
Noche Flamenca Brings it On and Inside
Copyright 2005 Anna Arias Rubio
NEW YORK -- My daughter
Antonia and I didn't think we would make it to see Noche Flamenca
Friday night. A big pile up on the New Jersey Turnpike made our
two-hour trip into a four-and-a-half hour marathon, but artistic
director Martin Santangelo, his wife and artistic partner Soledad
Barrio and company made the ordeal worthwhile.
Surprisingly, the small
house at Theater 80, where Noche Flamenca performs through June
5, is only about two-thirds full when we arrive well into the opening
piece, "Nuestro Son." There is no amplification in this presentation;
only the dramatic and perfectly choreographed lighting by Mark London
and Adam Gabel separates performer from spectator.
I had been looking forward
to hearing and seeing guitarist Jesus Torres -- who is listed in
the program but, as it turns out, not onstage Friday -- but am pleasantly
surprised to see long-time Noche Flamenca collaborator Arcadio Marin
move his chair to the front of the stage for a solo. Marin has a
delicate touch on the guitar, but even without amplification I feel
every sweet note in the intimate performing space.
Marin is joined by guitarist
Eugenio Iglesias and cantaores Manuel Gago and Miguel Picuo for
a piece in the flamenco rhythm of Tangos, choreographed by Barrio
for herself and and Antonio Rodriguez. The rhythm of Tangos is typically
danced as the finale or release/catharsis of a more serious four-beat
rhythm such as Tientos or Tarantos, and when performed on its own
usually reveals a lighthearted festive character. In this version,
letras (lyrics) with a more serious, romantic tone are chosen and
the choreography tells a story of love and reconciliation. The musicians'
chairs are arranged in a tight semi-circle, making more apparent
to the audience the communication between the artists which is the
defining element of flamenco. Barrio usually performs in traditional
flamenco dress, often showing her arms but covering the rest of
her body with shawls, fringe and two-layer skirts. It is refreshing
to see her finally show off more of her sculpted physique in a shorter,
sleeveless turquoise dress, giving her the appearance of a miniature
Greek goddess. You go, girl!
Rodriguez is a good
match for Barrio. Many men would pale next to her seething intensity,
but "El Chupete," as he is sometimes called, stands up fiercely,
conversing, disputing and reconciling with his partner using modern,
jazzy sounding footwork interspersed with the traditional, earthy,
grounded use of the weight and sway of the hips usually associated
with Tangos. The smoky lighting in this piece is spectacular. I
feel as thought I am a voyeur observing a very private affair of
the heart. This to me is what really good flamenco is about, this
feeling that I am observing someone's dark night of the soul.
I hear all the artists
on stage but would prefer the guitar to be a little louder during
the footwork sections. In flamenco, the dancer determines the speed
of a piece and the guitarists and palmas (handclapping) follow,
but all are so interconnected that it is imperative that the dancer
hears the other artists also. It occurs to me that without amplification,
these world-class artists are probably working way too hard to generously
allow us deeper into their world onstage.
The biggest surprise
of the evening for me is the Alegrias danced by frequent Noche cast
member Bruno Argenta. Argenta is known for his Farruca, a manly,
controlled dance featuring sharp turns and long lines pierced with
bursts of footwork in a four-beat rhythm. His technique is formidable,
his multiple turns impressive, and his compas (rhythm) flawless,
but he has never really moved me. He always seems a little cold
and almost arrogant, though still blowing me away with his physical
ability. In the twelve-beat palo of Alegrias he really gives himself
room to let go. The singers take turns singing the letras that speak
of boats and the beautiful Spanish port city of Cadiz, and Argenta
accents and answers the singing with imaginative and complicated
footwork. In his first escobilla (footwork solo) he describes patterns
that seem almost impossible, such as one in which he rises on his
heels and taps the toes of his boots together in counter-time. I
am astounded; the usually haughty-appearing Argenta warms up and
shows a kind of dapper Fred Astaire appeal that I have never seen
from him before. For the first time I truly appreciate the amazing
talent of this man I have seen so many times.
Rodriguez "El Chupete"
performs a solo in the twelve-beat rhythm of Solea por Bulerias.
This is my favorite palo in flamenco, the palo most like African-American
blues. Solea por Bulerias speaks of frustration and someone doing
you wrong in usually very personal terms; the rhythm pulses with
a compelling downbeat.
While Argenta dances
in long, clean lines revealing textbook technique, Rodriguez moves
in an earthy and funky manner. He often clenches his hands into
fists as he expresses the tension in the letras, "God will send
you punishment for what you did to me" and "the blame lies not with
me," for example. He punctuates the tension with outbursts of sound.
When El Chupete goes into the Buleria section of his dance he is
a wild man, marking the letras with controlled Jerez-style internalized
movements and then letting loose with crazy jumps and fast, precise
cierres (closures) that make me scream out, Ole!
Keeping with the tradition
of absolute integrity that is Noche Flamenca, the singers are superb,
not only in voice and palmas and involvement onstage, but in their
choice of letras. They begin the Martinete in moody spotlights downstage,
accompanied only by the unheard but implied ancient rhythm of the
blacksmith's anvil pounding inside of them. Picuo sings first. He
is very young and thin, with rectangular glasses giving him the
appearance of a philosophy student rather than a flamenco, but his
high-pitched voice reaches right into my heart. Gago then opens
his rich, deeper, more experienced voice to hammer in that last
nail, sending chills up my spine. Picuo and Gago face each other
and step back from the light; Rodriguez and Argenta enter and take
turns with furious footwork, finishing together. The singers join
together in a sort of round for Barrio's signature piece, Solea.
She is soft and still, listening to them describe the deep sense
of loss and sadness that often begins the Solea. She takes her time
as the guitar begins, and with her amazing feet demands the first
letra from singer Picuo. Her strong body contrasts with her slender
and soft fingers caressing the music. She responds to the letra
with an outburst of sound and then demands a verse from Gago, even
calling him by name -- "Manuel!" He sings, "I have lost the warmth
of my mother and father and if I lose your warmth I will have nothing."
Barrio's dancing has
evolved lately. She has always had that rare, raw, real intensity
that draws you into flamenco and makes you feel witness to some
ritual healing, but now she does not seem so desperate. She is still
a thrilling and moving dancer, but has matured. She is allowing
herself to use not only that raw power she undoubtedly possesses,
but finally to draw on her lyrical abilities and beautiful lines
to tell her story. It has been a privilege to watch her grow over
these last ten years.
All flamencos in the
United States owe a debt of gratitude to Martin Santangelo and Noche
Flamenca. They have been touring tirelessly here, bringing only
the best artists. Every performance is a testimony to the complexity
and depth that is the art of flamenco. Soledad Barrio not only performs
but has been bringing up the level of teaching in New York by offering
regular classes at Fazil's (Times Circle Studios). I have been thrilled
to have her kick my butt whenever I can get there. After spending
the last year here in the US, Noche Flamenca will return to its
home in Madrid soon. I urge all the flamenco faithful to try and
see these artists in this very personal venue before they leave.
(For information on showtimes, please click here.)
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