Last Saturday, I had the immense pleasure to see Soledad Barrio and her company, Noche Flamenca, perform their newest work, “ni el bien, ni el malo, todo lo contrario,” at Chi Movement Arts Center. For the company’s first live performance since the start of the pandemic two years ago, Philadelphia welcomed them with a (well-deserved) sold-out theater.
Normally, when reviewing dance performances, I take copious, detailed notes in order to properly analyze each piece. All of that went out the window when I watched this masterpiece. Every single element, from “el cante” (singing), to the percussion, to the dancing, was positively dripping with passion, pride, and contagious energy. I fell under the flamenco spell (se me hechizó la coreografía) and remained enraptured until the last stamp of those percussive shoes.
What makes flamenco so innately visceral and human is the call-and-response relationship between the dancers and the musicians. Both elements are valued equally and are also equally necessary in the telling of each story. For those who have not had the pleasure of attending a flamenco tablao, it is important to understand that each dance is highly narrative. Each dance presented in the show followed that tradition. Soledad Barrio and all of her dancers approached every single emotionally-charged movement heart first.
Each piece in this extremely-well paced show flowed seamlessly into the next. The first piece, “Libertad,” was co-choreographed by Soledad Barrio, Martín Santangelo, and Antonio Granjero. Based on a drawing by Francisco Goya of the same title, the piece conveyed a deep sense of yearning. The four dancers began seated in a diagonal line of black chairs, and in time with the music, they contracted their torsos, shifted, reached out, and walked through the space as if searching for something.
The second piece, “Guajira,” was choreographed by Soledad Barrio and danced by Marina Elana. A perfect demonstration of classical Spanish coquetry, Elana performed the seductive dance with effortless charm. With each flick of her fan, undulation of her hips, and even the quirk of a smile or glance, she commanded the space. It was a lively celebration of what it means to be in the prime of life.
The third solo, “Farruca,” was danced by the spry Pablo Fraile. A most traditional piece, Fraile dazzled with each “planta” and “tacón.” Clad in a sleek, black matador’s costume, he danced as if his very bones were aflame, sailed into a triple pirouette, and paused as the audience waited with bated breath for the last crack of the tip of his shoe against the floor. When it finally arrived, I can say with complete certainty that more than one heart skipped a beat.
Although “Farruca” was a difficult act to follow, Antonio Granjero rose to the challenge with the surety that only a master of his craft possesses. He performed “Alegrías de Cádiz,” a mostly improvisational solo using “bulerías,” one of flamenco’s classical rhythms, as the main framework. My pen was completely still during this piece, and I sat open-mouthed and spellbound during the whole dance.
The fourth and final piece featured the director, Soledad Barrio, herself in a heart-wrenching solo. Dressed in funeral black she slowly glided into the space, like the ghost of the woman who died in the song that accompanied her dance. Her dancing was perhaps the most soulful. Each movement, even of her feet, seemed to originate from her spine, deep underneath the breastbone. The song, from what I could understand of it, told the story of a man lamenting the loss of his love.
Manuel Gago sang each word so mournfully, it brought tears to my eyes. Some of the lyrics were “me duele el alma, Señor, de tanto llorar.” (My soul hurts, God, from so much crying.) and “ay, que no estás a mi lado, corazón, en el alma solo tengo soledad.” (Ay, now that you are no longer by my side, in my soul there is only solitude.) The other singer, Carmina Cortés wrought me to my core with her powerful voice. And the guitarists, Salva de María and Juan José Alba, in tandem with percussionist David “Chupete” Rodriguez, provided wonderful accompaniment.
The rapid, precise footwork that comprised the choreography was nothing short of mesmerizing to watch throughout the evening’s show, each stamp resounded and sent, not a word of a lie, energetic reverberations into the hearts of each audience member. Each strum of the guitar, each chant, and each drum carried me away to times gone by. I strongly urge anyone who wishes to be transported by dance to attend any performance by Noche Flamenca!