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Bewitched by Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca at UNC

by Kate Dobbs Ariail

November 20, 2009, Chapel Hill, NC: Now in its fifth year of extensive, world-class performance programming, Carolina Performing Arts is adding greatly to the region’s quality of dance life — most recently with a concert by the great Spanish flamenco troupe, Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca. Memorial Hall was a good venue for them: the music sounded great, and the percussive footwork, clapping, and finger popping snapped out clearly.

Soledad Barrio is a very beautiful dancer, incandescent with intense emotion and in complete control of her exact movements. She flings up her arms — but they arrive in a pre-planned position, their sculpted lines the result of years of study and practice. It is this combination of abandonment and self-control that makes flamenco dancing so absorbing. That, and the fortitude it requires to stamp and twist through the long patterns, keeping multiple rhythms in play with never-flagging grace.

She was joined on stage by guest dancers Rebeca Tómas and Antonio Jiménez, neither of whom appeared with the troupe when it closed the American Dance Festival in 2006 and whose styles helped to give a lighter tone to this program compared to the mournful, dark one danced at Page Auditorium. Tómas danced one ravishing solo in a traditional flamenco gown with a snug bodice and long-tailed, heavily ruffled skirt, but the women’s other costumes were far less stylized. Barrio made her initial appearance in slim pants that showed off her ankles and strong feet in their elegant shoes. It was surprising how differently one felt about the dancing — its emotional tone — when the woman wore pants rather than a flounced dress.

She wore flowing wide white pants for her alegrías with dark-clothed Antonio Jiménez, as if she were the moon flashing through his dark midnight. The alegrías is a lively, rhythmically challenging dance in which the dancers’ rich percussion weaves with the accompanying guitar and voice as the dancers circle and turn. Jiménez’ solo showed his talent and big attitude more clearly, as he improvised and jammed with the musicians, sometimes pausing for them to fill the air with plaintive strumming and mournful cries.

Guitarist Eugenio Iglesias is a wonderful musician, and I wanted his solo to go on and on. Even more remarkable were the singers, Manuel Gago and Miguel Rosendo. During their unaccompanied duet, they were singing so loudly that they were blowing out the audio equipment. Rosendo finally got tired of the crackle and unhooked his own body microphone, then unceremoniously walked downstage and detached Gago from his wire. The sound was much better: their powerful voices needed no aid.

But we had come for Soledad Barrio’s solo, as much as anything, and it did not disappoint. Now in a dress of dull black trimmed with black beads, she drew all the light into herself, using some alchemy to convert it and the music into a fury of witchy dancing. Judging from the roaring ovation, every body in the hall fell under her spell.

   
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