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Flash Review 3, 1-22: El Amor Greco
Greco, Velasco Bring Flamenco to Eugene

By Martha Ullman West
Copyright 2000 Martha Ullman West

(Editor's note: In my last, I wrote about the legendary Galina Ulanova. I was not fortunate enough to see her dance. I have been fortunate enough to see many great dancers, and some ballerinas. I have seen only one legend: Lola Greco. Ulanova uses the word "actor" in place of dancer. Lola is more than a dancer, more than an actor. She channels. Her characters possess her, and at a cost, I guess; some of their madness seems to remain as residue in her. I refer to her by first name because I've had the privilege of dining with her. I would gladly trade those dinners for the privilege of seeing her perform again. So when veteran critic Martha Ullman West told me Lola (and not just her) was coming to Eugene, I asked her to Flash. Following is Martha's vivid report, for which I am especially grateful. --PBI)

EUGENE, Oregon--Sometimes it's worth it to travel for eight hours out of 24 to see 20 minutes of brilliant dancing, and so it was on Thursday when I took the train from Portland to Eugene and the Hult Center for the Performing Arts to see a tribute to the art of flamenco put together by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor and music director of the Eugene Symphony and Hector Zaraspe, ballet master at the Juilliard School, with six dancers who have been associated with the National Ballet of Spain.

Those twenty minutes of brilliant, dramatic, virtuosic dancing were performed primarily by Lola Greco and Francisco Velasco. (Greco left the NBS in 1998.) The first half of the program opened with a zarzuela overture, played with authentic panache by the orchestra, and closed with Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, a staple (is it ever!) of the guitar repertoire beautifully performed by 23-year-old guitarist Jorge Caballero. In between were four traditional zarzuelas, danced in a highly restricted stage space (full-sized orchestra ranged behind) which Greco managed to fill entirely and, in fact, transform.

In the La Maja solo from Granados's "Goyescas," arms twining above her head, heels subtly but firmly tapping the floor, Greco managed to look like the naked Maja, even though she was covered from head to toe in white lace ruffles. The orchestra was completely subsumed by her dancing: in fact, it looked like a backdrop! Velasco, interpreting that extraordinary zapateado, a set piece intended to demonstrate virtuosic footwork (music is by Sarasate), reduced the 2000 people in the audience to complete silence (you could have heard a tissue drop!) with the precision and subtlety and rapidity of his heel work in the a capella section.

A bullfighting zarzuela "El Gato Montes," really a burlesque of the arrogance of the matador, was loudly applauded although lost on this audience, which did not laugh at all as Jose Porcel staggered around the stage, swishing a cape around and mugging at the bull.

The best of the evening, really, came in the second half when Zaraspe's version of Manuel de Falla's ballet, "El Amor Brujo" (Love the Magician) was performed by all six dancers and a dozen students from the Eugene Ballet School who acquitted themselves magnificently as a corps of gypsy girls. The restricted space was forgotten entirely as Greco in the role of Candelas, a gypsy girl so haunted by the ghost of a dead lover she cannot accept the courting of a new one, danced with unrestrained obsession, grief, and passion, her body curving in ways that are reminiscent not of the straight arrow arabesque of classical ballet, but the arabesques that are such a moving feature of Arab architecture and design. At one point, she poured onto the stage barefoot, in a nightgown, and still managed to create the illusion of heel-stamping passion.

The show, a joint production of the Eugene Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will have nine performances in the Los Angeles area in February. While a bit ragged in places in the first half, it's worth traveling to see, if only for Greco and Velasco, whose performances, to coin a Spanish superlative, are estupendo!

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