That Day-to-Day Life Masks
Flamenco is a folk art from Spain - specifically, from the province of Andalusia. It developed in the mix of cultures that Spain hosted in the 16th century. It has been traditionally the expression of the myriad forms of cultural and economic oppression. It's a form made up of singing, dance, and guitar. There are hundred of palos (flamenco forms), each with its own rhythm, chords and mood. Today it still expresses a timeless intensity that stuns us with raw emotion.
Noche Flamenca, the cuadro (flamenco company) that appeared recently at The New York Shakespeare Festival's Public Theatre, presented us with all three flamenco elements, in the persons of six of its members - two male singers, two male guitarists, and two dancers. From the act's opening, with a guitarist and a singer, it's clear that the company is concerned with a controlled passion. The singer's throaty wail is the vocal equivalent of a tornado. Then, Alejandro Granados dances. His macho dance is athletic to the point of being pugilistic, with the forcefulness of a martial art, but without assault.
The centerpiece of the company is Soledad Barrio, its brilliant lead dancer. Her face itself a reflection of life: she looks stunned, as if she's just learned how hard life is, and disdainful, as if no one suffers as much as she does. She stands still at first, and then moves slowly, as if determining if the space is acceptable. Then she throws herself into the compás (rhythm) of the section, lifting her skirt hem or arching her back, or throwing her arms up and executing precise finger movements that suggest Indian forms. In her red shawl or her maroon dress, she's as commanding as a colossus.
And of course there is always in flamenco dance the unmistakable, rhythmic click of the tacon (heel).
The dancers are usually accompanied by palmas (hand-clapping) in one of the complex palos that they have at their disposal. Sometimes all the company members sing. At one point, the singers stood so close to Srta. Barrio, and related to her so carefully, that they took all on the quality a single performer, as if the dancer had split into three persons. The one-hour performance leaves us with a sense of catharsis and closure. Small wonder that the audience was shouting "Olé".
The flamenco is a performance of mythical proportions, with a power and severity that challenge the audience's capacity to accept it. It reminds us of the passions that day-to-day life masks.
- Steve Capra