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Flash Review, 2-17: Flamenco Fizzes
Saura soft-peddles Sevillian dance

Patricia Guerrero in Carlos Saura's "Flamenco Hoy." Photo courtesy World Music Institute.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011 Paul Ben-Itzak

NEW YORK -- While it offers at least one stand-out dancer, Patricia Guerrero, stellar musical direction and playing from pianist Chano Dominguez and four haunting and tempestuous singers -- Alba Carmona, Blas Cordoba, Israel, and Rubio de Pruna -- Carlos Saura's "Flamenco Hoy," which had its U.S. premiere Wednesday night at City Center under the aegis of the World Music Institute, smells an awful light like flamenco for ignorant tourists (some of whom were evidently in the audience; who else would shush others for shouting "Ole!"?), a spectacle with little that is spectacular or innovative. Post Israel Galvan (and minus its biggest name, Pastora Galvan, hospitalized in Spain), any show that promises a new generation of Spanish flamenco artists without actually offering anything new -- at least on the dance front, as the music fares better -- comes off like a dud, the few bright spots little more than reminders of traditional flamenco values and not anything one will remember in a week.

The first musical and dance highlights both come in the fourth piece, "Fiesta to the Newborn through Sevillianas," in which the singing grows to a chorus, and Guerrero's expressive back curves repeatedly as she drills her arm and hand into the ground in swooping gestures.

The first atmospheric highlight -- and perhaps atmosphere is where Saura, credited as director, tries to make his presence known -- arrives with the light-infused "Dance of the Green Eyes - Argentina." Before I just read the program notes, I'd have placed this dance in the '20s or '30s, mostly because of its tall Flapper-coiffed and dressed trio of Rosana Romero, Ana Agraz, and Carmen Manzanera, who dance longly with mirrors in the background, especially the lanky Romero, who gets to play with a drape of a green shawl. Now that I realize the dance, choreographed by Rafael Estevez and Nani Panos, also the program's lead male dancers, is a tribute to THE Argentina, for whom Enrique Granados wrote the music, it makes sense and wants me want to see more throwbacks like this on flamenco programs.

Guerrero throws her back back on a chair to conclude a dance to Antonio Rey's music, also choreographed by Estevez and Panos, in which she is fetchingly coy in a yellow dress as she cloyingly plays with a fan.

The most charmingly unique piece of the first act, "Bocherini's Fandango as a Dance Class," conceived by Saura and choreographed by the same pair as above, attempts to put the audience inside a flamenco dance class, and it works. Particularly fascinating are the skeletal working skirts of the women, and the way the class is remarkably similar to a ballet class, with lots of turns and toe-work and, by, Panos, fouettes.

Except for the music -- notably a series of virtuoso turns by all four singers -- the second act was unremarkable and even, in two pieces, consisted of tired cliches: Nothing much happened in a bata de cola dance featuring particularly two women in long red and white dresses, and a section in which a bare-chested Panos is apparently crucified by four occasionally stamping women in shrouds was just silly. But most disappointing was the restraint of most of the male dancers, chiefly Estevez. Neither the brazen boldness nor fearless abandon that makes some male dancers unafraid to risk appearing foolish was in evidence. When, despite a standing ovation at the final number, the troupe did not return for what is usually a standard fin de fiesta, with musicians taking their turn as dancers, I was not too surprised. Slick as Carlos Saura's "Flamenco Hoy" is, it only goes so far.

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