In flamenco, drama is inherent. It emanates from the movement itself -- the imperious arch of the back, the sensuous curve of the arm, the defiant gleam in the eye. Pain and passion, ecstasy and despair, are embedded in the art form's rich history and centuries-old traditions, making any kind of overlaying story line or theatrical context almost superfluous, even distracting, to those seeking the puro aesthetic.
However, Compania Andaluza de Danza, which made its Boston debut last night as the opener of World Music's fifth annual Flamenco Festival, presented two dance theater works that showed, in very different ways, how a narrative thread can be woven into the very fabric of traditional movement. It made for a vivid and exciting evening of large-scale flamenco. What it lacked in spontaneity and intimacy it made up for in visual splendor and the congregate power of 18 dancers and five musicians.
Director Jose Antonio's "La Leyenda" is an homage to the legendary gypsy dancer Carmen Amaya. Created to commemorate the 40th anniversary of her death, this full-company work has only the loosest of contexts, unfolding as traditionally based set pieces that showcase the depth and talent of this company. It is thrilling to see flamenco embraced so fully by that many bodies at one time, and Antonio moves his dancers around well, with arresting floor patterns and layered phrasing.
Ursula Lopez and Elena Algado represent the artistic spirit and the fragile humanity of the great artist. While neither comes close to capturing the raw power characteristic of Amaya, they are both terrific performers and they effectively suggest the duality of the artist versus the woman, her feminine qualities and her sometimes startling machismo.
The most stunning duet is the unison opener, in which both women are caught in the beam of overhead spots, their interplay of liquid suspensions and sharp dynamics, creating a study in shadow and light. In another duet, Lopez wears the pants and toreador jacket that Amaya often favored, dancing with the head and torso held high atop brilliant footwork.
In contrast, Algado is all deep bends and curves, her shoulders and hips rolling seductively under a ruffly red dress. In their final dance, they are a contrast of black and white to symbolize the dichotomy of Amaya's complex persona.
Yet their trains, Lopez's nearly eight feet long, entwine to pull the women together. The only disappointment is the lack of interaction between dancers and live musicians. (The musicians appear for only two numbers.)
While the jazz-flavored contemporary flamenco is vibrantly colorful and infectious, much of it sounds canned. Antonio Gades's 1974 "Blood Wedding" is more literal and theatrical, based on the play by Federico Garcia Lorca. More balletic and gestural, it is a landmark of Spanish dance. Every movement seems to capture the underlying tragedy of this tale of love and betrayal, with extraordinary images that linger in the memory -- the lovers on horseback, the bride silently keening, a tension-filled slow-motion duel. Bravo to the company not only for bringing this masterpiece to new generations of flamenco enthusiasts, but for doing such a bang-up job. (Miguel A. Corbacho and Ana Moya are outstanding.)
The only disappointment is that there is more theater than flat-out dancing; when Gades moves big groups together in rhythmic concert, the power is breathtaking.
("Compania Andaluzza de Danza; World Music's Flamenco Festival 2004; At the Cutler Majestic Theatre, last night; Repeats tonight; Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras appears tomorrow and Sunday.)