BWW Review: COMPAÑÍA MANUEL LIÑÁN Brings an Exciting Flamenco Program to City Center
New York City Center hosts Flamenco Festival performances every year, and this 13th season included an evening with Compañía Manuel Liñán in their New York debut. Six dancers, three singers and two guitarists led by dancer/choreographer Manuel Liñán performed "Nómada." The program described the piece in this way: "A provocative journey through the locales where flamenco took shape, Nómada explores how the dynamic patterns and rhythms of human migration made flamenco what it is today."
A marriage of tradition and innovation, the show seemed to evoke the history of flamenco in 80 minutes of high energy and passion. Starting with a single spotlight on one singer, the light then expanded to show us the other two singers, followed by the full line of 11 performers, all dressed in black and sitting on black chairs. The only color was the brown faces of the guitars.
In the first piece called Caña, the six dancers used the chairs as props, as is typical in flamenco, alternating between clapping and dancing while seated and then dancing in a standing position while dragging the chairs in various formations. The choreography was most exciting when the dancers performed fast footwork in perfect unison.
The women later danced in dresses with black tops and floor-length pink skirts - no two dresses alike - while a track played of a woman speaking. Next, the women chanted in an almost Spanish rap song, sometimes seemingly taunting the men. This was the moment I wished most that I could speak Spanish. Still, it was a fascinating piece to watch and drink in the energy of the dance, even without knowing the specific context.
Choreographer Manuel Liñán is a diminutive man with a personality ten times his physical size. The evening included four solos for him in which he showed off both his virtuosity as a dancer and his formidable stage presence. Often, he seemed to challenge a particular singer or guitarist, dancing within inches of them. At one point, he dropped to his knee in front of a guitarist and finished the piece by strumming the instrument. At another moment, he kicked the air in defiance and triumph before exiting the stage.
Liñán is also not afraid to try gender-bending choreography. The men occasionally danced with fans and shawls - props that are generally reserved for the women. In the men's hands, however, the large shawls took on a toreador-like appearance, looking as though they were fighting imaginary bulls.
My favorite piece was Alegrías Córdoba, in which the women appeared in colorful floor-length dresses with the traditional ruffled trains and the large shawls with long fringe (one in pink and green; the other in blue and green). The skill required to dance in these dresses is mind-boggling. Not only must they master the posture, footwork, and intricate hand movements, but they have to master the skirt, repeatedly kicking and flipping it into submission. They often did all of this while swinging the shawls in specific formations around their heads.
Just as I was thinking the women had a much more difficult time of it when dancing flamenco, we saw a dancer in the center of the stage covered in a floral shawl and wearing a dark skirt with a ruffled train. It was Manuel Liñán himself in the gender-bending pièce de résistance. On top, he wore suspenders and a white t-shirt, and when he danced, he gave the women a run for their money. He was perfectly capable of twirling the shawl and flipping the skirt with equal skill.
During this last piece, called Caracoles, the performers smiled for the first time. Flamenco is, after all, a seriously passionate proposition. The audience ate up the humorous, fun finale, rewarding the company with cheers and multiple curtain calls.
The singers, David Carpio, Miguel Ortega, and Miguel Lavi, performed with goosebump-inducing emotion. The guitarists, Victor Márquez "El Tomate" and Francisco Vinuesa, were nothing short of fabulous. They also composed several original pieces of music for the evening.
The other dancers who accompanied Liñán on stage were Immaculada Aranda, Anabel Moreno, Agueda Saavedra, Adrián Santana and Jonatan Miró. While Liñán was the main attraction, they all held their own alongside him.
Photo by Luiz C. Ribeiro.