Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca The Peerless Passion of Flamenco Moves

December 4, 2015 Read Reviews 767 Views

By Jamuna Chiarini

After a four-year hiatus, the Bessie Award winning Flamenco performer Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca are back in force.


The mood Thursday night at the Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland was effervescent. The evening was crafted to transport the audience, offering them a full-flavored Spanish experience, starting with Tapas at the Art Bar and a pre-show warm up performance by La Peña Flamenca de Portland, a locally-based Flamenco group featuring Pepe Raphael and Lillie Last joined by special guest singers Elisa Rocha & Christy Yenni, and finishing with the pièce de résistance, Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca. Why fly to Spain when you can just go to the Newmark?

The program is called Sombras Sagradas (Sacred Shadows) and is a series of seven unrelated pieces, group dances skillfully choreographed by Barrios’ husband Martín Santangelo, that are broken down into solos, duets and trios within the dance interspersed with performances by singers Manuel Gago and Emilio Florido, and guitarist Salva De Maria.

The stage is dressed in black; it’s dark and dramatic with lots of shadows and six black chairs that get arranged and rearranged in the space throughout the night. Practical and architectural, they add texture and provide seating for the artists between their performances.

The lighting by S. Benjamin Farrar is stunning; it creates depth and relationships and closely follows the mood of the performers, slowly brightening as the emotions grow stronger and disappearing suddenly when they stop. The lighting is the framework that the dances live within.

The women’s dresses add color and more texture with layers of ruffles, polka dots and tassels. It’s a pleasure to watch the movement ripple through the fabrics. Maybe this is what it’s all about: watching these beautiful women dance across the stage in magnificent dresses to beautiful, soulful music.

One of my favorite things about Flamenco choreography is the use of the back. The back is beautiful and mysterious, and if angled just so, can be used to drive up dramatic tension. Plus it’s just plain beautiful being able to see all of the back’s intricate musculature lit up by the stage lighting. The back, along with the head in profile and angular arms, are signature Flamenco features that I love.

The performance isn’t so much about the names of the dances or the stories, but about the sounds, the textures, the energies, the juxtapositions, the connections between performers and the multitude of emotions emanating from the movement—the writhing, twirling, twisting, undulating moving bodies.

Each dancer has a style and flavor of her own. Marina Elana, who has several gorgeous long winding solos, is fair-skinned and petite, dark and direct in her attack, yet soft at the same time. Laura Peralta is bright, buoyant and classic, no shawls or fringe around her shoulders, keeping lines simple but no less energetic. Xianix Barrera is strong and feminine, and showcases the smaller flourishes and attributes of the Flamenco form. Her style exemplifies sweetness, power and poise.

Each is a soloist in her own right and has time on the stage to show it, but Barrio is in another category all of her own. She dances Flamenco like it’s the air that she breathes. Her movement looks natural on her, and goes deep. Simultaneously a woman and a monster, she digs deep down into the earth with her furious feet for something unexplained, draws that thing up into her body, and expels it violently. At times, she’s grace personified, smoothly twirling and spiraling and stepping and tapping lightly, but mostly she’s furious and unrestrained, gathering up the folds of her long skirt with her hands and lifting it up as she sends energy back down into her feet, drilling away at the maddening floor while completely tuned into the singers, the guitarist and the audience alike. She performs generously, always letting go and letting us in. She is the dance.

The singers make sounds I’ve never heard before, moving from easily recognizable Flamenco sounds to wailing in different keys (Having recently adapted Antigone, maybe they’re channeling The Trojan Women?) There are also tunes that sound distinctly Arabic, suggesting links to the many different cultures that have influenced the Flamenco art form over time. What’s most amazing to me is how long they were able to hold a note without taking a breath.

It is my understanding that the art form of Flamenco sits precariously between improvised and choreographed, and it’s this teetering that makes it edgy, in-the-moment, and exciting.

Watching Barrio and company perform is an amazing one- of-a-kind experience, and on opening night it was flawless. Physically, not a teeter or a fall or arm out of place; spiritually, all heart and passion. Of course the bows were no different from the rest of the performance. The performers were given flowers, and in return they tossed them out into the audience and gave us an encore of one more dance each including the singers, who proved to be fantastic Flamenco dancers, too. Olé!

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