The New York/North Carolina company Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana is performing café cantante style* this weekend – at Motorco, the former car showroom turned music hall. It's a rare chance to see and hear flamenco up close and personal, in a small club as it used to be done, rather than on the concert stage. It's thrilling to be able to see the performers' expressions so clearly and not only hear the sounds of the patterned foot-stamping but also to feel the vibrations.
"The Passion of Flamenco" program lives up to its name, growing steadily hotter through the two sets. Taken together, the five pieces in each set comprise a quick overview of the types of flamenco dance and song and showcase the individual dancers and musicians in turn while incorporating their unique styles and strengths into sizzling ensembles.
On Feb. 12, the solos by Isaac Tovar (a sexy Taranto) and Estefania Ramirez (a sensuous, powerful Solea) were the dance highlights, and an interlude by singer Pedro Obregon and guitarist Gaspar Rodriguez the musical one. All the music sounded great in Motorco, with both guitars, the percussion, and the clapping clear and balanced.
The stage at Motorco, however, is quite small and shallow, so that when all five dancers were on stage, there was very little clear space. It was much easier to appreciate the whirling forms and angular lines of the flamenco style with only one or two dancers in action. From where I was sitting, I could not see much of the foot work, although I could hear it and feel it, so I focused on the powerful torsos and graceful arms and hands. (If watching their feet is important, sit on the risers, or in the front row of tables.)
The powerful hips, upright back, open rib cage; the elongated neck above strong shoulders and sinuous arms and speaking hands, topped with the neat head with flashing eyes – all these are as important to flamenco as the percussive feet in creating the emotional firestorms that make it such a compelling dance form. This program does not include any mournful or melancholy dances, heading instead straight into the sensuous and seductive side of flamenco. The program included a strong duet (Tientos) by Antonio Hidalgo and Eliza Llewellyn. He has the older dancer's authoritative economy of gesture, pleasing in contrast to Tovar's earlier young man's sizzling Taranto, and swept Llewellyn around the stage with élan, while her beautiful hands danced as elegantly as her feet.
The evening ended with the full company having a fine time with Jaleos. Let me repeat: it is wonderful to be so close to the performers. To watch the dancer and the musician lock eyes and get exactly on each other's wavelength and then smile with the ecstasy of it as the dance peaks is to share in the joy.
The Saturday Feb. 13 show is sold out, but tickets remain for the Feb. 14 performances at 2 and 7 p.m. See the sidebar for details.
*Described in this article.