Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place launched the first event in their Mainstage Dance Series with the fiery and gifted artists of Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana. This New York-based company, led by Artistic Director Carlota Santana, is celebrating its 30th anniversary with programs which present new music with a mixture of dance styles, including those which integrate Hispanic-American influences. This program was no exception and proved to be an exciting and awe-inspiring exhibition of traditional flamenco dancing, dances with newer Latin influences, and choreographed group dances, all impeccably meshed with live music played at the rear of the stage.
There is a North Carolina connection with Santana, who is on the faculty of Duke University. The dance troupe consisted of Spaniards Antonio Hidalgo, Associate Artistic Director and choreographer, and Isaac Tovar, a native of Valladolid. The three women are all American: Leslie Roybal, a native of New Mexico, Leilah Broukhim, a New Yorker born of Sephardic Iranian parents, and Laura Peralta, also from New York. The fine guitarists were Gaspar Rodriguez and Ricardo Anglada. The singers who exhibited a high and throaty style of singing full of roulades which is idiomatic to this art were Roberto Lorente, and percussionist and singer Francisco Orozco “Yiyi.”
As flamenco is essentially a solo dance art form which evolved over time to include accompanying guitarists, singers, and percussionists, the idea of choreographing “group numbers” with each dancer in sync might represent too large a concession to commercial exhibitionism. If anyone was bothered by this, no one would have known it from the enthusiastic and appreciative applause after every number and the thunderous ovation at the end. This is intoxicating stuff — rife with passion of every sort and performed with consummate finesse. There was a feast for the eyes as well in the sheer beauty of the dancers and their costumes which, while colorful, weren’t so elaborate as to be distracting. In fact, the men frequently wore simple vests and ties or even jackets, and the women wore rather minimally ruffled dresses with hemlines above the feet (not ones with the famous trailing trains known as bata de cola.)
The first half, titled “La Pasión Latina: Bailes de Ida y Vuelta,” was a dance journey of flamenco through the Americas that was choreographed by Antonio Hidalgo in five numbers. First was “Colombianas” and last was “Rumba/Salsa,” both dances by the company. Immediately, one noticed the extreme stylization of flamenco — the twining motions of the female wrists, unique elbow and arm positions, rigid upper body positions, motions of the whole arm, and the flurry of motion leading to a freeze-frame pose, before the dance began anew. The footwork is fast and, above all, percussive, with hands and fingers also contributing their share of rhythmic elements. Each dance number was followed by a musical interlude, often with singer and percussion, but the meaning of this was lost as we weren’t offered texts or translations for anything that was sung.
The second dance, “Milonga,” danced by Broukheim, was a style of flamenco brought to Spain by “farmers, artists, bullfighters and soldiers in the 19th century returning from the ‘Americas.’” In this piece, an elaborately fringed shawl was swirled, wrapped, and re-wrapped about the dancer in a fashion reminiscent of a matador with his cape. The range of emotions displayed was exceptional, ending in a blaze of emotion.
The “Vidalita-Farruca” was for the trio of Hidalgo, Tovar, and Roybal. According to the program notes, the Vidalita is similar to the Milonga, with verses of an amorous and soulful nature. The Farruca is a dance from Asturias in Northern Spain. The sensuous choreography played on the one-woman-with-two-men scenario in tantalizing and playful ways. Next the three women were featured in “Guajiras,” a dance inspired by Spanish immigrants in Cuba, with fans which were more gracefully waved than snapped, and in graceful white gowns with tiers of ruffles down the back.
After intermission the program was entitled “La Pasión Flamenca,” and as with the first half, began and ended with numbers for the company. Particularly striking in this half were the two dances for soloists — first the “Martinete” danced by Broukheim as the ultimate exercise in feminine self-expression, and the “Alegrias o Solea por Bulerias.” On the latter dance, the word “alegrias” means joy or happiness, and the dance reflects this high-spiritedness. The Solea por Bulerias is based on both the serious Solea, and the upbeat flavor from the Bulerias. Unfortunately, the male dancer for this stupendous number was not named in the program. Whoever he was hit one of the high points of the evening with not only impeccable technique, but an unabashed and highly successful projection of male sexuality. Such moves! What an evening!