Noche Flamenca, Cherry Lane Theater, New York

“How do they do that wailing?” my friend exclaimed at the opening of Noche Flamenca’s New York season. He meant “without seeming phony”. Authenticity is a pressing concern for a populist art form born out of dire circumstances. The small, acclaimed Spanish troupe satisfies this imperative by artfully shaping the dances to pull them into the present tense.

Director Martin Santangelo has organised the 90 minutes of solos, duets and musical interludes to accentuate the shifts in mood. In her increasingly desperate siguiriya, for example, maestra Soledad Barrio circles the stage with trilling feet only to stop dead centre, raise her hands jaggedly overhead as if crushing a clay pot between them, and freeze. A singer immediately begins to moan, carrying the torch of Barrio’s feeling into another idiom.

The transitions between numbers also bleed feeling. In the forthright opener, the three dancers, three singer-percussionists and two guitarists charge toward us in a tight phalanx. As if to intimate that the company is spent, the next number is quiet and ruminative. Under a single spot, guitarist Eugenio Iglesia plucks out a lyrical tune. Likewise, dancer Antonio Jimenez’s dark solea por bulerías – imagine the Tin Woodman in the first throes of lovesickness – evolves slowly in the wake of Soledad Barrio and Juan Ogalla’s suave, flirtatious alegrías.

Over the course of the evening, you become keenly aware of the blooming of new feeling and the softening of old: Barrio collapsing forward as if pulling a shroud over her head when the stage goes black at her solo’s end; Ogalla, once all flash and pride, making his arm as luminous and weightless as a candle flame, or letting his face go slack and his arms limp so they can absorb the low, fast tremors of his feet.

Most enchanting are the ballroom inflections that Barrio, in the role of choreographer, has given the up-tempo alegrías. Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth dancing to “I’m Old-Fashioned” seem to haunt the flamenco steps. Barrio and Ogalla move in waltz time, with a swoop and swoon, a drag and catch-up. The fusion is not forced, but one of those beautiful accidents that happen when dancers are so attuned to the music that they begin to hear it as shapes. ()

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