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Troupe's stylish flamenco isn't for purists

Nuevo Ballet Español’s Flamenco Directo
World Music’s Flamenco Festival 2006
At: Cutler Majestic Theatre, Saturday night

Much the way ''Riverdance" brought new fans to Irish step dance, the Madrid-based Nuevo Ballet Español seems to be popularizing flamenco. The company's Boston debut was an accessible, slickly choreographed show called ''Flamenco Directo," featuring nine dancers and seven musicians in a suite of dances ranging from some fairly traditional duets to pieces that stretch the boundaries of the art form. Carlos Rodriguez and Angel Rojas, the company's founders, lead dancers, and choreographers, set out 10 years ago to bring the centuries-old tradition of flamenco into the new millennium, infusing flamenco with a variety of contemporary influences, most notably modern dance and jazz. The idea is to honor the past while taking into account the age in which we live.

However, ''Flamenco Directo" is really more ''flamenco lite," contrived and a little forced. Although the dancing was accomplished and the choreography stylish, the more traditional numbers looked generic and lacked personality, and the more contemporary pieces tended to dilute the very qualities that make flamenco so powerful. Purists who came to the Cutler Majestic Theatre on Saturday night looking for the raw emotion and visceral immediacy of traditional flamenco improvisation were undoubtedly wondering what in the world they had gotten themselves into.

The starkly lighted opening number, which began with the dancers in black pants and cropped T-shirts lying on the floor behind a line of street shoes, was the first sign this wasn't going to be flamenco as usual. This was flamenco with a jazzy, contemporary edge and a lot of attitude. The use of space and patterning was distinctly modern, and struts, kicks, and wiggles segued into tight footwork and balletic turns. The music (which was painfully over-amplified) was expertly performed. But much of it had a new age flavor, featuring a female singer, two nontraditional instruments (flute and cello), and a percussionist who played not only the traditional box drum but snare, high-hat, cymbal, congas, and what sounded like an electronic tabla pad. In spots, it looked and sounded like a modern dancer's misguided appropriation of flamenco.

But, to be fair, the show got better as it went on, and much of Saturday's crowd ate it up. There were some terrific solo moments, mostly from the men. In addition to an oddly flirtatious little duet, Rodriguez and Rojas had memorable solos. Rodriguez broached an improvisatory spirit in the ''Farruca," with dramatic posturing that opened into solid footwork, brilliant turns, and unrestrained bursts of machismo. Rojas's ''De Corazon" played with the edge of balance, mercurially shifting dynamics and periodically unleashing vivid explosions of heelwork.

The most riveting moment of the evening came at the beginning of ''Playas del Alma." A phalanx of dancers stomped a repeated series of rhythmic patterns as a backdrop for a dynamite solo by Ricardo Lopez. Graceful, charismatic, but completely devoid of the kind of dramatic angst some of the other dancers pasted on, Lopez maintained an elegant carriage as he unfurled spectacular footwork accented by sharply angled kicks. It was a simple idea, powerfully executed and rhythmically thrilling.

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