The dancers and musicians of Spain's Noche Flamenca vividly capture what makes the pure flamenco style so immediately and viscerally powerful -- that sense of raw spontaneous invention within a centuries-old tradition unfurling totally in the moment, uncontrived, and unfettered.
Yet despite the cohesion of convention, the troupe's four dancers display remarkable individuality. Noche Flamenca's star, Soledad Barrio, is a earth goddess. Eyes raised, she is summoning the spirits. Eyes downcast, she is plumbing the depths of her soul. With her hyper-arched back, low center of gravity, and heavy footwork, she embodies the muscular style of flamenco, high-angled kicks slicing the air, arms carving space. Isabel Bayon is a sensuous, playful spitfire. She dances like a flickering flame, embellishing lyrical body work with hands that dart and swirl like fish.
The men offer similar contrasts. Juan Ogalla works the stage with the swagger of Mick Jagger. He prowls sinuously like a cat ready to pounce, easing into seductive skitters or exploding like a tightly coiled spring into twisting kicks and dramatic turns. Blistering volleys of footwork erupt beneath a high, elegant carriage of the torso. The more compact Antonio Rodriguez is the common man dancing off the turmoil of a hard life. His arms pump and churn like a petulant child. His mouth works feverishly, as if he's praying, and he plays off the music as if it is a lifeline. He punctuates phrases with wonderfully quirky accents, capping off a vigorous reel of footwork with a jaunty twist of the pelvis or a sharply angled kick.
But it all begins with the music, and Noche Flamenca's two singers and two guitarists are first-rate, with impeccable timing, precision, and soul. Cantaores Manuel Gago and Antonio Campos sing with searing, primal energy, as if their wailing, melismatic flourishes are being ripped out of their hearts. Though the show is overamplified, making the guitars sound tinny at times, the playing is virtuosic, especially Eugenio Iglesias, who can caress a gentle arpeggio or pound repeated notes like a jackhammer.
The show is beautifully lit and artfully staged. Artistic director Martin Santangelo sets the tone with a choreographed opening piece ''La Plaza." Though it isn't as persuasive as the more traditional numbers in which individual performers cut loose, it effectively brings the whole troupe together, capturing the rich communal spirit of the art form.