Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Dance Review: In the Rhythm – Paco Peña and the Flamenco Dance Company

Paco Pena, Dancers - Angel Munoz and Charo Espino - Photo by Elaine MaysonİOle!  Cries an audience member as the lights came up on Paco Peña and his Flamenco Dance Company Friday night at Town Hall.  They haven’t moved a muscle, yet their strong faces and erect postures, the warm gold light gleaming off the guitars and the pure black of the costumes, is already enough to excite the nearly full house.  And we are not disappointed.  Running nearly two and a half hours this show is packed with movement, whether it’s any of the three extremely capable flamenco dancers strutting and whirling across the stage, the controlled rhythmic slaps of the percussionist’s hands on the cajón, or even the vocalist’s poignant opening and closing of her fist in time to her guttural protestations.  Every moment contains a thousand little gestures, all held together by the principal which is also the theme and title of Peña’s latest offering- A Compás– In the Rhythm.

Traditionally, Flamenco performance resembles more of a jazz band jamming then a ballet recital.  The arrangement of participants is fluid but usually contains one or two guitars, one or two vocalists, one or two percussionists, and one or two dancers.  Are You a DANCER JS 336The role of Compás- or rhythm in the hands- is either maintained by one person or shared among the group.  All of these musicians, including the dancers, come together around one of many flamenco rhythms whose structure, tempo, and duration change at the whim of the performers themselves.  Peña obviously wants to make clear this semi-improvisational nature of the form as he writes about it at length in his program.  He hopes to present a true rendition of the spontaneous spirit of Flamenco, where "musicians, dancers and singers… inspire one another to reach as far as possible into their artistic endeavors so as to create an unrepeatable performance every time- a performance that is new and surprising to themselves as much as it is to any audience present."

The first half of this show, while entertaining, seems to me a warm-up for the terribly exciting second half, excepting the quiet guitar solo played by Peña himself.  After a rousing opening number with the whole company Peña takes a chair center stage and plays, alone, against a backdrop of pale blue light.  He seems almost a classicist here, practically devoid of visible emotion, he lets his guitar do the talking as he manipulates subtle textures in pitch and tempo.

Paco Pena, Photo by Elaine MaysonBesides a delightful duet, with guitar by Paco Peña and castanets by Charo Espino, my favorite piece is Suite, Baile y Guitarra which opens the second portion of the show.  Accompanied by Peña, each of the male dancers displayed his unique style against Peña’s carefully articulated guitar.  Angel Muñoz, a dancer whom I found a bit stodgy at first, finally opens up here, transmitting his joy to us in accelerating rhythms and little hops and cuts on the upstage diagonal, flirting with the guitar in order to gain space to come stomping back down again with hands like spiders tracing circles in the air.  Ramón Martinez, a very different dancer, who earlier had entertained and eventually put me off with his exaggeratedly slow bravado, here displays his sparse style to great effect, complimenting Peña’s structured chords with lunges, attitudes and arabesques, reminding me of a post-modern dancer in flamenco dress.  In the next piece, Charo Espino, the only female dancer at last given some space to move, proves that she can keep up with the men.  With arched back and hands full of tension curling over her head, she struts up and down the stage, pausing to gather her full skirt in one or two hands and wraps it tightly around her knees as she beats the floor with heels and toes.  She is also a master of one of my favorite moves in the flamenco vocabulary- an arched, spiraling turn, resembling a barrel roll, where the feet stay on the ground and the hands circle as the arms meet and explode again overhead.  Dazzling!

Then, after a full standing ovation, it is over and we emerge elated and a little dazed into the October air.  If you would like to see more Flamenco be sure to check out the New York Flamenco festival which will take place in February 2010 with performances at City Center and Town Hall.  I strongly recommend it.

Photography by Elaine Mayson

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Official Dance Review by Meghan Frederick
Performance:  A Compás, Paco Peña and the Flamenco Dance Company
Performers:  Paco Peña, Angel Muñoz, Charo Espino, Ramón Martinez
Venue:  Town Hall, New York City
Show Date:  October 2,  2009



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