Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca
Having seen several performances of flamenco over the years, I have experienced a wide range of styles and presentations. When most people think of flamenco, they probably think of thin men in toreador-style outfits lightly hitting the floor (or more, likely, table top) while clutching their bolero jackets; the women in long, flowing red dresses and shawl, one arm stretched high, the other low.
Well, that's a pretty good description of what you won't find at the Noche Flamenca season at the Joyce through Sept. 30. This company, founded by Soledad Barrio, adheres to the strictest, most traditional flamenco that harks back to this wondrous dance form's roots in Andalusia, the vast southern region of Spain that encompasses Seville, Granada and Cordoba.
As the helpful programs notes point out, the mournful songs of the two male and one female onstage singers, accompanied by lovely guitar riffs, assimilate Muslim and Jewish prayers; entirely appropriate for the last region to be reconquered by Christian Spain. Flamenco itself has its origin in the Romani, or Gypsies as they're usually known, who also populated the area.
If dance, in its purest form, is expressing emotion through movement, than flamenco is the purest form of dance. I can't think of another medium in which the dancers' every gesture is so imbued with a kind of longing for something lost. It's mournful to be sure, but also spirited and certainly beautiful.
One of the aspects of flamenco I love the best is that this is the only Western dance form that celebrates, instead of putting on the shelf, older dancers. Here the gravitas of years is respected, revered and allowed full flower.
In this company, the older dancers seemed to be exclusively male, which gave the women overall a disproportionate amount of the heavy-duty work, especially in the closing number, a near-solo. Ms. Barrio's "Seguiriya" alone is worth the price of admission, a real stunner that demonstrates the incredible stamina of the true flamenco dancer.
The men generally appeared for briefer segments, their dancing heavier. This seemingly worked well, although I would have enjoyed more of it. And here I must admit that I would have liked to have seen more dancing overall.
The other necessary criticism is the lighting. Basically, there was not enough of it. Perhaps to imitate the cafes where flamenco is practiced most widely in Spain, the stage was kept bathed in darkness.
Spotlights highlighted the dancers, but occasionally, as with four women in a segment of the all-ensemble opener "La Plaza," it was difficult to see the very fine dancing.
The audience certainly didn't mind. The night was punctuated by cheers of "Olé," and the final ovation went on for a full 10 minutes.
If you want to experience flamenco in its purest form, by all means head down to Chelsea and be transported, if only for an evening, to a cafe in Southern Spain.
Noche Flamenca runs through Sept. 30 at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave. For tickets or info, call 212-242-0800 or visit www.joyce.org.