Asheville’s Wortham Center for the Performing Arts has the fortunate coincidence of presenting one of the world’s hottest flamenco companies over the Valentine’s Day weekend. Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana‘s Reflejos Flamencos (Flamenco Reflections), a new work created by choreographer José Maldonado and guitarist Gaspar Rodríguez, set the house ablaze with its spirited and virtuosic display of dancing, singing, and playing. For this tour, the company featured five dancers, the first four of which are also choreographers (Isaac Tovar, Emilio Ochando, Fanny Ara, Lorena Franco, and Adrian Dominguez). The four musicians were two guitarists (Gaspar Rodríguez and Daniel Jurado), a percussionist/singer (Francisco Orozco “Yiyi”) and a singer El Trini de La Isla. Carlota Santana is the company’s artistic director. This remarkable show is being co-sponsored by Hola Community Arts which promotes cultural diversity in the Asheville area. Associated dance workshops with Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana have further enriched the community’s understanding of this unique art form. (All biographies of the company can be seen here.)

The roots of flamenco are varied and complex. Rooted in the southern Spanish communities of Andalusia and Murcia, this fascinating art form associated with the Romani people has cross-cultural elements traceable to Castilian, Moorish, and Sephardic cultures. The dancing (baile) is earth-bound, highly emotional and rhythmic, with fierce stamping footwork and expressive postures and arm movements. The dancer explodes with energetic movements which may take the entire stage or only a small portion, and then as quickly subside into a freeze-frame moment. The body postures and the face projects raw emotion, frequently directed right at the audience for an immediate and raucous response.

For this show, graceful use of shawls and percussive use of canes were used by the dancers. The women wore traditional long gowns with lower layers of ruffles, but not the bata de cola, the dress with the long train that figures into other dance choreographies. Also missing were fans and castanets, as the singers and dancers achieved all rhythmic effects either with clapping, stomping, cajón box drum, or tambourines. The impassioned singing, full-throated and high pitched (cante flamenco) is an essential component to the dancing, with its exotic melodic structure and hypnotic chordal progressions. Although we had a sense of what was being sung for each number through a description in the program, it would have been wonderful to have read the actual song texts. In between each number were the most incredible instrumental interludes (occasionally with singing), displays of virtuosic skills delivered with great feeling.

The evening opened with “Latido,” performed by the whole company. In this number, they conveyed “the concept of our art, the rhythm at which our heart beats giving life to our inner self.” The five dancers appeared first on their hands and knees, thundering out rhythmic patterns with shoes in their hands, as if to say: this is the music our shoes alone can make. The dance evolved into more elaborate choreography with swirling figurations, representative of “a journey into our inner self to find the engine which enlivens our instincts to transform them into dance.”

As I’ve commented in a previous review of this company, some may think that the choreography of group numbers of what essentially is a solo art may be too big a concession to touristic commercialism. That idea didn’t seem to pose any problem for this audience, which responded to every number with shouts and applause.

Other dances featured a solo dancer, several together, or more ensemble numbers. The use of scarfs swirled about the body created stunning visual effects. One such number was brilliantly executed by a man, whose movements mimicked at times those of a bull fighter with his cape. In “Inspiracion,” Rodriguez cleverly adapted into a medley the music of Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albeniz, and Joaquin Rodrigo, composers “who gave us sounds to dance by and today gives us a new vision to create.” The evening ended with a “Fin de Fiesta/Bulerías,” a flamenco version of a dance-off in which each member of the company got to show off. Even one of the singers, de La Isla, joined in the fun.

The emotional impact of such a performance defies description and simply must be experienced. Don’t miss it!

This program repeats Saturday, February 15. See our sidebar for details.