Flamenco rhythms drive Peña's troupe

Charo Espino and her husband, Ángel Muñoz, in the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company. Charo Espino and her husband, Ángel Muñoz, in the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company. (File)
By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / October 6, 2009

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The art form of flamenco may be centuries old, but guitarist Paco Peña and his talented company of dancers and musicians make it seem completely of the moment, bringing a contemporary sensibility and riveting immediacy to the tradition.

In “A Compás!,’’ presented at the Berklee Performance Center on Sunday, three guitarists (including Peña), two singers, a percussionist, and three dancers treated the crowd to a show highlighting the rich variety of rhythms in flamenco, from the simple, almost tribal pulse of the alboreá to complex tapestries of rhythmic counterpoint. Largely devoid of the tempestuous passion and pain so pervasive in many flamenco shows, this one was all about the rhythms, and as such it was the most upbeat flamenco performance to hit Boston in recent memory.

Peña drove the show. Whether center stage in the ensemble or playing alone in the spotlight, he proved himself an undisputed master. His fingers unleashed cascades of notes that rippled with melodic invention, punctuated by strummed flourishes or delicate tremolos. With impeccable control and a dynamic timbral palette, he delineated the musical layers, from boomy bass notes to whispered dulcet tones and ringing harmonics.

In one of the evening’s highlights, Peña was joined by dancer Charo Espino, whose brilliant castanet work embroidered intricate filigrees in and around the guitar lines. She had a bold robust sound and a towering castanet technique, whether creating a brisk dialogue with the guitar or letting the castanets chatter in playful accompaniment as she sensuously glided them up her arm.

In motion, Espino was a commanding performer with loose, swiveling hips and expressive arms. Fluid and elegant, all her movement emanated from a deeply arched back.

But it was the male dancers, with their sharply contrasting styles, who brought fire to the choreography. Espino’s husband, Ángel Muñoz, was the more classic of the two. Tall and graceful, he favored a high, focused carriage of the upper body, which belied the fury of his footwork below. Quicksilver shifts between immaculate taps and high angular kicks were emboldened by sharp twists in direction.

The quirky Ramón Martínez offered a lively contrast. He leavened his machismo with a flirtatious, almost camp quality, accenting his cocky bravado with a knowing “Yeah, I’m cool’’ nod to the audience and a saucy pelvic bump. And just in case you might miss any of his dazzling footwork, he complemented his red scarf with shiny red shoes that carried him about the space in moves of almost jazzy insouciance: kicks, flamboyant turns, skitters on his toes. Episodic bursts played in syncopation with the music, and his upper body undulated, imbuing his flamenco style with traces of modern dance.

The evening’s most rousing number was “Explorando el Compás,’’ a rhythmic confab of drumming, palmas (clapping), banging on a table, and hammering on metal, gradually incorporating the dancers’ tapping feet. You’d have to have been 6 feet under not to feel the beat.

Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company At: Berklee Performance

Center, Sunday night

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