Dim lightning in a smokey cafe, tall women with exotic flowers in their hair, men in shirt-sleeves — the erotic, exotic images associated with Spanish flamenco dancing were all absent from the Shubert Theater last night.
Instead, the Noche Flamenca troupe of Madrid, Spain presented “Quebrada,” a grittier, more intense version of the traditional dance and music.
Flamenco developed in the Andalucia region of southern Spain, a hardscrabble place with a long, rough history marked by abject poverty and frequent invasions. Its indigenous music — which comprises a particular style of dancing, singing and guitar playing — reflects this complicated, often tragic history.
At the core of the music are cadences and chord sequences from India and Pakistan, the original homeland of the Spanish gypsies who first played flamenco. Overlaid are tones reminiscent of Sephardic Jews, Moors and traditional Spanish folk melodies — all of them audible even to an inexperienced listener.
Before the performance began, a representative of the Shubert management read a message addressing Tuesday’s tragic events. The arts have the power to draw people together, said Anthony Lupinacci, director of public relations.
But once the curtain drew open, no further words were necessary to explain the relationship between events on the stage and the images haunting everyone. The four dancers, especially co-founding members Soledad Barrio and Bruno Argenta, gave extraordinarily powerful, profound performances.
Barrio was a fiery whirl of powerful, expressive arms and richly colored, flowing, swirling skirts. Argenta’s feet were a blur — he tapped so hard and so quickly that he slid across the stage, seemingly floating on a two-inch cushion of air.
Guitarists Jesus Torres and Andres Heredia, both virtuosos, supported the dancing with percussive, rhythmic playing and also broke into breathtakingly rapid, intricate, melodic solos.
Wails of mourning and occasional cries of joy seemed torn from the throats of singers Antonio Vizarraga and Silverio Heredia. The microphone problems that plagued their performances only served to illustrate their talent and experience as they improvised and mended wires while singing in time with the dancing and guitars.
Like American jazz, flamenco is highly percussive and improvisational. To accommodate this style, the stage was sparsely occupied by only a few light chairs, on which the performers sat.
Unfortunately, the cavernous space — not to mention the Corinthian columns — surrounding the small gathering was a serious obstacle to the power of the performance. Occasionally, the performers seemed dwarfed by the darkness surrounding them — it was hard not to long for some of that traditional crowded, steamy cafe atmosphere.
But at its best moments the set seemed to transform the performance into something even more intimate than a cafe — a jam, a rehearsal, a suspended moment shared only among the performers. It seemed at times that if the entire audience had suddenly stood and silently left the theater, the performers might have continued for hours, unheeding.
Friday at 8 p.m.
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