Even by flamenco standards, Noche Flamenca is dark, as the “night” in the troupe’s name forewarns. Soledad Barrio – the single star around whom the company orbits – guarantees as much. Every show climaxes with her anguished, inward soléa.
And yet you can go every year and still be caught off-guard: with each outing she finds new colours in the dark, and wily director Martín Santangelo paces and orders the pieces so we discover them with her.
Noche Quebrada (Shattered Night) began with the other two women, Sol La Argentinita and Marina Elana, inducting the space with a measured duet. Soon Barrio and partner Antonio Jiménez burst on to usher in heat and speed: alegrías, in other words. The dinner theatre’s tiny platform was so close to the front tables that I could see the braces on Barrio’s teeth and how steamily Jiménez hovered over her. After a passage of tango intensity, they backed away from each other – measuring the distance with a fusillade of beats – to get a better look at this person they had given themselves away to.
The build towards despair began with a musical interlude. No young cocks among the musicians this time. To Noche regular Eugenio Iglesias’s delicate but unfussy guitar, José Jiménez wailed duskily, then abruptly surrendered to silence as
if to say: “Even keening brings me no relief.”
Brusque halts – before the audience has had enough but after they are in deep – are typical of Noche’s accent on feeling over form. To demonstrate how overcome he was, the Jiménez dancer, for example, added the most awkward arm-flailing to the ornate rhythms of his feet.
A look of artfulness is especially hard for flamenco women to avoid, given the voluptuous moves for hips and arms the idiom assigns them, but Barrio manages it. She was not sinuous so much as entangled, not ponderous but tortured. Her timing drew attention away from the sophisticated arsenal of steps and towards the doubt or conviction they conveyed. And she did not look down to complete the flamenco torso’s S-curve, as the other women did, but gazed out as if listening for answers on the wind.
Noche Flamenca begins a month-long North American tour this weekend, www.nocheflamenca.net