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The vitality of Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana flared hotly from the stage during the company’s energetic two-part performance in Page Auditorium on a cold Saturday night. Presented by Duke Performances with assistance from the Duke Dance Department — where Santana currently teaches — the concert packed Page to the rafters with flamenco and Latin dance enthusiasts. The music was performed onstage by two wonderful guitarists, a drummer who kept the beat without drowning the sharp sounds made by the dancers, and a superb singer, whose tones — plaintive or joyful — made the blood run faster.
Santana has broadened her company’s work in recent years to include not only the classic Andalusian flamenco (itself a hybrid of several cultural forms), but dance styles from Hispano-America, in which influences of flamenco can be traced, and which have also influenced Spanish flamenco. The first half of the concert on February 11, La Pasión Latina, gave five examples within Bailes de Ida Y Vuelta (roughly, dances of coming and going), which was choreographed by company associate artistic director and dancer Antonio Hidalgo.
The five dances within Bailes were each charming and lovely, and together offered a fascinating lesson in the far-spread and multi-layered influences that give flamenco its passionate depths. The piece opens with the full five-member company in “Colombianas,” which features a spectacular shawl dance; it moves on to “Milonga,” then to a powerful piece for two men and one woman, “Vidalita—Farruca.” The last two segments, “Guajiras” and “Rumba/Salsa,” are infused with the sweet sensuality of Cuba. It was a wonderful way to learn more about cultures that are hybridizing with the old Anglo and Black cultures right here in North Carolina.
After intermission came even hotter stuff — La Pasión Flamenca, giving freshness to the ancient dances. “Mujeres” was a knock-out, with the three women in more-or-less traditional dresses, with very long tails, which they used to great effect. The basic form of the body in flamenco is columnar: the upper back remains very straight and perpendicular to the floor, and while the hips certainly move, the legs of the women do not go too far from the center. To increase their spatial volume, the women raise and spread their arms most enticingly, and make play with the ruffled tails of their dresses. These extra-long tails, made possible by modern fabrics, allow the female to create wide dramatic angles, similar to the crisp, alluring, X formed by the male dancer’s tightly-sheathed legs when he suddenly extends them beyond his body’s central column.
We saw that X and all that goes with it in Antonio Hildalgo’s fine dancing of the “Alegrias.” Although this dance is filled with joy and bubbling spirit, the dancer must remain in close communion with the ground to make his part of the rhythmic music. Hildalgo was sleek, fast and emotive. His hand gestures were particularly beautiful.
The evening ended with the vivacious “Bulerías,” in which each dancer in turn gets a chance to show off his or her best steps and turns, and praise the others for their best. The element of challenge always infects the musicians as well, and it all culminates in a storm of glory.