BWW Review: NOCHE FLAMENCA'S 'ENTRE TU Y YO' at Z Space Showcases Legendary Dancer Soledad Barrio
The first thing you notice as the lights slowly rise on Noche Flamenca's "Entre Tú y Yo" is its astonishing lead dancer, Soledad Barrio. Not that she's doing anything to call undue attention to herself, mind you. She is just one of the company's seven dancers and singers, all seated on bistro chairs in a bluish half-light, engaging in a series of simple postures, more or less in unison, while three musicians strike up the opening song. However, even when engaged in the simplest of movements, there is something about Barrio that inevitably leads your eye toward her. The specific way she rotates a wrist, curves her fingers, turns an ankle or assumes a subtly aggressive stance when opening her legs is mesmerizing. And then there is her face, always a bit inscrutable yet so full of shifting emotions. You don't know what her exact thoughts are, but you can't help wondering. As the one-act piece develops, Barrio is given ample opportunity to deliver the expected goods of Flamenco - the fiery, percussive choreography and push-pull partnering. But even the flashiest of moves always appear to be motivated by the emotions she is feeling. There is undoubtedly an incredible amount of technique underpinning her performance, but it never reads as such.
This is not intended to in any way disparage the rest of the company, as Noche Flamenca is comprised of some remarkable performers, all accomplished in the art of authentic, Spanish Flamenco. Artistic Director and Choreographer Martín Santangelo has put together a program comprised of the hour-long title piece followed by 3 shorter pieces after intermission - "Refugiados" based on the literature and poetry of refugee children, plus two extended solo dances for Barrio and Antonio Rodriguez . The program notes for "Entre Tú y Yo" indicate it was inspired by Schnitzler's "La Ronde" but I will admit to finding that connection rather tenuous, other than that both works are made up of short scenes exploring a variety of romantic relationships. Any one-to-one correlation between the two works in terms or specific characters or scenes doesn't really hold up. While "Entre Tú y Yo" may not be particularly effective as a cohesive work of theater, I did find it quite riveting as a dance piece with narrative undertones. Filled to the brim with blazing intensity, it ends on a welcome note of quiet after all that fire and drama. The production design is spare, consisting only of the bistro chairs and expressive lighting that runs from cool to hot in a flash.
This is definitely not the kind of Flamenco you may have seen, say, on a TV variety show of yore, with lithe young bodies stomping the floor in standard rhythms. Santangelo's approach eschews that glitzy, presentational style and focuses instead on the internal communication between the artists onstage. Flamenco is ultimately about catharsis. It is a crying out of an oppressed people, allowing us to collectively witness their struggle in order to release our own pain and get on with our lives. This can perhaps be a bit mystifying to American sensibilities as the performers rarely look directly out to the audience, instead concentrating their attention on each other. We're used to that when, say, watching a jazz combo or chamber quartet, but when it comes to dance we're more accustomed to performers smiling directly at us and sending knowing winks to show just how hard they're working up there.
Noche Flamenca's three other dancers are all virtuosos in their own right. Antonio Rodriguez practically boils over with earthy emotion and complex rhythms. Jasiel Nahin is more debonair, exulting in dazzling spins and lightning-speed footwork. Marina Elana is comparatively more reserved and provides some lovely old-school elegance. Singers Carmina Cortes, Manuel Heredia, and Reyes Martín employ a husky, gravelly vocal style where intensity and clarity of feeling always trump melodious tone or perfect pitch. Percussionist David Rodriguez makes an indelible impression, supplying the underlying heartbeat to the music and performing an extended castanet solo that is mind-boggling in its complexity and sophisticated musicality.
The last thing you notice as the lights slowly dim on the program is also Soledad Barrio, as she is given the concluding solo. She is positively electrifying as she allows the emotions to build within her until they take over her body like cresting waves. Her footwork is fierce and impeccable in its precision. The fluidity and grace of her arms would be the envy of any prima ballerina. Her transparency of emotion is a thing of wonder. Her go-for-broke, off-kilter rhythms keep you guessing where she's going to go next. The intensity of her performance conveys a sense of danger, of living on the edge, before subsiding into a beautiful moment of stillness in the end. To watch her is to experience a living, breathing work of art. I suppose it's possible there are better dancers somewhere out there in the world, but I highly doubt it.
(Photos by Peter Graham)
Noche Flamenca's production of Entre Tú y Yo runs through Saturday, November 16, 2019 at Z Space, 450 Florida Street, San Francisco. Tickets and information can be found at zspace.org or by phone at 415-626-0453.