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In March, when Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca were workshopping Ni Bien ni Mal, Todo lo Contrario at Chi Movement Studio, Barrio had just received the prestigious Vilcek Foundation Prize in dance. The kudos keep coming: Barrio and dancer Antonio Granjero have been nominated for Bessie Awards for their performances in the piece at the Joyce. Now the company is back for a full month of performances at the Plays & Players Theatre, which is good news for dance fans.
Barrio and company are the real deal and the century-old jewel box of Plays & Players, fading into a dusty sunset on Delancey Street, gives the audience an up-close view so intimate that it feels like eavesdropping on the performers as they pour their hearts out in dance, sinuous guitar, and heartrending song.
The evening opens with the women in wide skirts and the men in trim dark suits. They sit on folding chairs, facing left so they are in profile to the audience, and dance with their arms lifted or stretched out in front of them. Every fine movement communicates longing and tension, heightened by the plaintive guitars of Salva de María and Eugenio Iglesias. On opening night, the musicians were hidden off in the wings, but at a return visit they had moved into the light, taking their rightful place onstage and sharing in the give and take of the dance.
After a brief musical interlude, the dim lights glint off the four dancers gathered in a tight circle at the center of the stage. The women wear leather pants now and the tempo is more forceful: emotion gathers in the gut and explodes in the snapping thunder of the company’s stamping feet, while their arms reach and curl, releasing passion and pain through their wrists to their fingertips. The sharp twist of a shoulder communicates aggression, and the posture and the arm movements of the men echo the movements of the bullring—a challenge in the stance as they stalk across the stage, arms raised and fingers pointed like swords poised for the kill.
The many styles of flamenco
Noche Flamenca gives us many styles of flamenco. Guajira is noted for its song as well as dance and Marina Elana is flirty in a long and ruffled white dress, teasing singer Manuel Gago with her fan and swinging her hips in a come-hither, go-away game. The fan seemed like an extension of her arm, circling and flashing, closing and opening again with a bit of help from her cleavage. (Later, wearing a dark skirt and top in “Matrimonio,” Elana dances an intense and sensual duet with Pablo Fraile.)
In “Farruca,” a more modern style, Fraile brings a tango feel with steps that stretch to the side as he dances around guitarist Iglesias. The dance changes mood when Granjero joins, with striking poses and upraised arms, fingers pointed like a matador’s sword. Granjero gives a bravura performance in the fast-paced “Alegrías,” cheered on by the company. With his arms kept low for the most part, he emphasizes the musicality of the snapping steps, matching the ever-faster guitars note for note. I was exhausted—but entranced—just watching.
More than dancing
Flamenco encompasses not only dance but song and instrumental music as well. The Noche Flamenca singers and musicians create their own music and lyrics within the tradition that feed the dancers and draw the company into a cohesive organism. Carmina Cortes seems to pull each wailing note out of a bleeding heart, and in the later show, percussionist David “Chupete” Rodriguez astonished us with a display of speed and rhythm with the castanets. But holding it all together with her intensity, Barrio herself gives us the very soul of Flamenco. In a long dark skirt or in tight leather pants, she brings passion, sweat, anger, and tension. And with a sexy curl of a hip, she drives the music onstage, pulling us into the dance.
There’s a neighborhood in the old town of Madrid where the flamenco schools are located, and on a summer night, the sounds of flamenco drift through an open window: the music of guitars, the plaintive wail of the singers and the snap of stamping feet. Barrio and Noche Flamenca are about as close as you can get to that experience without a plane trip to Spain. I worry though, that with a month-long run, too many people will put off seeing the show, figuring they’ve got time, until suddenly it’s gone and they’ve missed it. This is not something you want to miss.
What, When, Where
Ni Bien ni Mal, Todo lo Contrario. Choreography by Soledad Barrio and company. Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca. $35-$50. Through October 30, 2022, at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. (215) 735-0630 or soledadbarrioandnocheflamenca.com.
Plays & Players Theatre does not currently have wheelchair-accessible restrooms, nor an elevator. Wheelchairs can get into the main theater, however.
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