When it comes to flamenco dance, Soledad Barrio is the best in the business. She and her company, Noche Flamenca, are ensconced at the Joyce Theater for a two-week season and I am issuing a challenge to all dance-lovers: Go see her show and, while Barrio is onstage, try for even one second to take your eyes off of her. I dare say it’s impossible. Even with her back to the audience, striding regally offstage after her stupendous first-act solo, Barrio commands your rapt attention. Despite a stunning trio of women dancing with gusto center stage, your eyes linger on Barrio right up until the last little piece of her dress clears the curtain. And this is not meant as criticism of the other members of her company. They are all world-class flamenco dancers, but Barrio is from another universe.
With her compact body more often hunched than arched, she speaks eloquently with her hands, moves her feet with superhuman speed, and alternates between moments of fury and complete calm. Her sense of authority over everything—the music emanating from the live singers and guitarists who circle her, the space surrounding and seemingly extending for miles beyond her, her spectators’ every breath, even the passage of time, it seems—is incredible. And she accomplishes it all through the muscular tensions of her body, as she rarely looks up and never out at the audience. With her sage expenditures of energy focused like a laser, Barrio unleashes gut-wrenching emotion by way of supreme control.
Under the artistic direction of Martin Santangelo, Barrio’s husband, the company’s program strikes a perfect balance between authentic presentation of the art form and the employment of certain theatrical devices that will help ensure an entertaining evening for lay audiences. While flamenco is traditionally a solo, improvisational art form—and this production delivers plenty of that—the show also includes tightly choreographed ensemble sequences, as well as slick lighting design by S. Benjamin Farrar that conjures exciting visual drama.
Though an unfiltered outpouring of emotion is an essential component of the flamenco experience, the flamenco singing style, with its wailing sounds recalling the grief and oppression of the Andalucian people, can be an acquired taste. The show’s two male singers, Manuel Gago and Pepe el Bocadillo, and guitarists Salva de Maria and Eugenio Iglesias provide potent aural frameworks for the dancing, but Carmina Cortes’ dense, throaty singing is simply irritating.
Among the show’s striking dance soloists, Juan Ogalla (substituting for the injured Miguel Tellez) displays the most unusual style and a teasing sort of charm. In solos structured as quick, disjointed bursts of movement, Ogalla flicks his legs so fast they blur and then curls his wrists with feminine softness. He dances lightly and fleetly, as if flying along the floor rather than stomping deeply into the earth.
Bravo to Santangelo for assembling a company and production that lets Barrio shine without diminishing the importance of any of her supporting artists.
Presented by The Joyce Theater Foundation, in association with Martin Santangelo, at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., NYC. Sept. 18-30. (212) 242-0800 or www.joyce.org
Critic’s Score: A+