A Beautiful Mourning
by Kate Dobbs Ariail
The 2006 American Dance Festival closed on July 22 with stunning final performances by Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca in Page Auditorium. This was a week ago, and I am still in thrall to the company's magnificent wailing and heartbeat-altering percussive footwork. This was flamenco whole: not the dancing alone, performed to some unseen music source — but the guitars, plaintive and plangent, together with the cantaores and the dancers. I had come to see dance, but the guitarists and singers were so good that I would have gone away happy had the dancers never appeared.
Even on stage at Page Auditorium, the feeling was as intimate as if we were in a small club, or in some cases, as if we were in the kitchen after a funeral. The simple stage arrangements were very like those in the large John Singer Sargent painting called El Jaleo hanging in the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum in Boston. As in the painting, low sidelights deepened the strokes and pools of shadow while gleaming on brow, cheek, nose, arched foot, edges of ruffled cloth, and pale hands' expressive twists. Wooden chairs for the singers and dancers were the only props.
Flamenco comes from Andalucia, the southern part of Spain that includes both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, making it a draw for migrants from many areas over time — Moors, Jews, Gypsies. When Ferdinand and Isabella, with their northern ideas of a pure race for Christian Spain, came to power, they put this stew of cultures in the south into a pressure cooker. Some of those who survived the Inquisitions and the tortures and the expulsions began to create the great, mournful art we know as flamenco, which fully came into its own in the 19th century. That such a powerful, multicultural art should have come out of the worst sort of hatred and religious politics leaves us with somewhat of a moral problem. Would the world be better off without flamenco — or for that matter, without the blues? If we could re-write the past, would we choose to forgo this art?
There was no time for questions like that during the performance, and hardly time for a novice to do more than understand that it is a complex weave of passion and skill that makes this rich tapestry of sound and motion. The performers were so compelling that they cannot be ranked, although Soledad Barrio naturally stood out as the only woman. In her solo Siguiriya, she was neither flashy nor flaring, but white-hot all the way through. The turns of her wrists and subtle anglings of her fingers while her arms were raised straight above her head were some of the most beautiful motions I saw at ADF this season. The magnificent Alejandro Granados, with whom she partnered in his choreography for Tangos, is her equal in subtlety and power. Their dance together was sensual and erotic.
The younger male dancer, Juan Ogalla, practically caused spontaneous combustion, both on stage and in the audience, with his solo "Maria," an Alegrias that closed the first half of the program and brought the entire audience to its feet for a prolonged ovation. Granados' solo followed in the second half, and while he can no longer be so prodigal with his knee cartilage as the younger man, he knows more about the power of pause and stillness, and his Solea por Bulerias was replete with memorable images. Seeing the two men together in the Martinete that followed (danced to fabulous singing by Manuel Gago and Jose Anillo) reinforced the sense that Ogalla is very, very good — and Granados is the master. The program ended, as it had begun, with a company dance — and so many ovations that finally Soledad Barrio threw up her hands (very gracefully) and left the stage.It was a great ending to another season of exploring contemporary dance from around the world. Seeing that "modern dance" can include flamenco — which is modern pretty much in the same way that Goya, for instance, is a modern painter — and can include the post-communist craziness of Tatiana Baganova and the ardent storytelling of Ronald K. Brown and, and, and.... Well, it is mind-expanding. It's almost enough to make you think there is something good about this global economy when there is this kind of free trade in the arts!