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Duke Performances, in cooperation with the University’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, presented an evening of flamenco to a sold-out house in Reynolds Theater as the last of its three España Classica programs. Compañia Flamenco José Porcel, in a concert titled “Más Allá de Flamenco,” offered a high-energy, 21st century version of this ancient form of music and dance.
Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca were the last Spanish flamenco artists to appear in this area, at the 2006 American Dance Festival. Viewers expecting the smoky dim ambiance and mournful lyricism of that evening would have had a shock from José Porcel. His style is loud and flashy — more like electric Chicago blues than the lowdown Delta moaning of the old-timers. It’s not that the six musicians of Compañia Flamenco José Porcel were playing electric (or computerized) instruments, but that the tone of the whole performance by them and the eight dancers was bright and hot, sexy and vivid, even boisterous, though remaining within the strict forms of flamenco.
“Más Allá de Flamenco” was quite a show. Carefully choreographed, yet with room left for improvisation by the musicians and soloist dancers, it was well-balanced in terms of mix of type of dance. Between musical interludes, there were some for the women, some for the men, some for the whole company, and almost enough for Porcel alone.
Porcel is a very strong and passionate dancer, a gorgeous practitioner of the art, in a sort of Mozartian way: he gets in as many beats as possible, and seems less interested in the dark pauses and dramatic full stops than some flamenco dancers. Long and lean, with erect posture, his line is beautiful. He relies more on the larger shapes he makes than on the smaller gestures, though when his hands do talk, they are powerfully expressive. He’s particularly impressive in his turns, very neat and sharp, with an almost unbelievable ability to reverse the direction of spin without losing the energy of the turn. Porcel also showed one of the most endearing qualities a virtuoso dancer can exhibit: joy in the dancing. The rest of the troupe was very good, if not quite to Porcel’s level, and they all had the same heart-warming attitude. The musicians were flat-out wonderful, especially the two cantatores. They could really belt out the songs, all the while clapping percussively to the accompaniment of drums and guitars, and sometimes a flute. When the dancers added castanets to the rhythmic mix, the seduction of the audience by sound was complete.
An unusual aspect of this company is its attention to color in the overall visual of each dance. The costumes were innovative within the flamenco tradition, and highly colorful — and each dance required a costume change. The individuality of each dancer was emphasized by variations in either the cut or the color of the costumes, right down to their shoes. The sharp lines of the men’s legs were lengthened by dance boots carefully toned to the slim trousers; from beneath the froth of ruffles, the women’s feet beat out their rhythms not just in basic black, but in brilliant hues — including fluorescent green! The lighting was just as varied and colorful; both lighting and costuming were keyed to the emotional tone of the music. Altogether, the superb music, richly-patterned motion and vivid color made for a thrilling aesthetic and a highly artful entertainment.