Broadway shouting `Ol'e!' over flamenco
New York — IN the world of flamenco, ``puro'' doesn't mean cleaner, innocent, or more refined. On the contrary, as in ``Flamenco Puro,'' it means gutsier, true to the flamboyant gypsy roots of this native Spanish dance form. The show ``Flamenco Puro,'' put together by the folks who brought us ``Tango Argentino,'' is now having a five-week run at the Mark Hellinger Theatre after a tryout in Miami. These two heavily Hispanic cities were good choices for openers. In New York the audience responded with enthusiasm and frequent choruses of ``Ol'e!'' to intense passages of dancing and singing.
By now everyone must have some idea of what flamenco looks like -- the dancer's upper body lifted into a haughty stance, with arms curling high above, and the legs pounding machine-gun rhythms into the floor. What I noticed first in ``Flamenco Puro'' was how differently each of the dancers transmitted the style. An opening Bulerias, a kind of songfest, gives each dancer a chance to introduce himself or herself while the whole cast -- 20 dancers, singers, and guitarists -- stands in a big semicircle. The show closes with the same kind of number, and by then we've gotten to know their personalities, decided who are our favorites, and can even recognize their special steps.
It takes more than one evening to distinguish the special qualities of ballet or modern dancers, and one of the things that struck me in watching ``Flamenco Puro'' was the adaptability of a folk dance form. Even though everyone learns the basic steps and techniques, the best dancers experiment, stretch the rules, and compete to exceed the previous limits of virtuosity or expressiveness. Another part of this idea is improvisation; the performer's individuality depends on spontaneous interaction with the song and the audience of the moment.
``Flamenco Puro'' doesn't have a lot of group numbers or recognizably fixed choreography. Flamenco, I think, is usually a dialogue between a solo dancer and a singer, who describes some stressful situation. Though I didn't understand the words, I could see the dancers' feelings.
Flamenco, like tap and clog dancing, is done from the hips down. A dancer uses the whole foot and especially the heels as well as the front of the foot to get his effects. Jos'e Cort'es actually keeps his heels off the floor a lot of the time and sometimes twists his feet together or swings his leg out from a loose knee to get an almost decorative effect. But the showiness that's really impressive in flamenco comes from the tempo and coloration of the foot beats.
Eduardo Serrano (El Guito) in the Farruca entered stepping on the balls of his feet -- I was reminded of Garc'ia Lorca's description of a bullfighter: ``Up the stairs went Ignacio'' -- and danced with many bullfighting gestures and moves. In a later dance he worked into a fury of quick changes of tempo and sudden small twists of the upper body. While dancing the fastest, he whipped off his vest, then slung it over his shoulder and strolled off.
Angelita Vargas made the most articulate fast beats, accelerating and decelerating, stopping suddenly, stamping with locomotive dynamism. Manuela Carrasco, a tall, imposing woman, worked herself up into ferocious turns ending in huge, stopped poses. Ms. Carrasco used her arms with extended instead of curved gestures, and reminded me of Isadora Duncan's most Dionysian photographs.
Some of the dancers were quite stout; some weren't young. But this hampered neither their ability to dance like blazes nor their appeal. Antonio Montoya (El Farruco) is a small, rotund, middle-aged man, who danced a Seguiriya (``ardent expression of audacity,'' said the program) with a confidence in his own ability to conquer a woman, that you'd see in an American his age only if he looked like Paul Newman.
Sensuality is a key component of flamenco; the form itself projects it, with that proud, vertical body stance and the sinuous arms and upper body.
Most of the dancers pulled their concentration in when doing the most intricate footwork, projecting fiery looks out at the audience only when they were about to make a sudden stop or a contemptuous exit.
The innate drama of the dance form proved itself in Tarantos, a number for the whole group that was actually a series of duets, trios, and solos.
One or a few at a time, the dancers entered, all dressed in black. As they danced, they touched, stalked, struggled with such intensity that I found myself making up a whole story about them.