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By Janet Eigner
Benitez Teatro Flamenco
The Lodge at Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM
July 5-16, 2006
Reviewed by Janet Eigner
Estefania Ramirez in Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco 2006
Photo by Morgan Smith, courtesy Maria Ben�tez Teatro Flamenco
Maria Benítez’s international flamenco ensemble hammered and waxed the cabaret theater’s wooden floor with élan, skill, and sweat on this last night of a concert run. The diva has produced, choreographed, and performed in this show for many summer seasons.
Although none of her dancers capture the stomach-gripping pain and passion Benítez exudes while performing, Omayra Amaya, Julia Chacon, Antonio Granjero, Juanaire, and Estafania Ramirez each showed spades of their own skill and charisma. The accompanying guitarists, José “Chuscales” Valle and Calvin Hazen, added a carpet of melody, while singer/percussionist “El Yiyi” and Felix de Lola completed the Andalusian ambiance with their gravely gypsy song.
The dancers’ distinctive styles sustained variety within the traditional flamenco movement. Tipping off the chasm between the two male dancers’ styles, the slim, tall, introspective, and snaky Juanaire danced holding the lapels of his velvet sport coat closed, while short, compact, explosive Granjero held his jacket open wide.
The flamencas’ styles, while less varied, still made them immediately distinguishable: pencil-thin, petite Amaya, a wraith of swift elbows and knees; tall, elegant, silky Ramirez, with deep side torso dips and undulations and legs that seemed weightless as she swung her feet; and Chacon, with in-your-face duende, deep backward torso spirals, and crisp footwork. The concert began and ended with an ensemble work of dance and music; in between, each performer transitioned into a riveting solo, interwoven with gypsy melody.
The company’s esprit showed at every turn and tacón (flamenco’s percussive footwork). A vantage point at the extreme side of the small stage made visible their Janus aspect. Facing the audience, the dancers mainly showed severe flamenco faces. But when they turned upstage, continuing their rhythms, they grinned and winked at each other.
Benítez ended her two-year sabbatical from performance the following week, to join her newly reconstituted ensemble in presenting “Maria Benítez: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow,” produced by Dance in America director Merrill Brockway. With the new production, containing archival videos of Benítez integrated with live dance, Benítez and Brockway aim to create a DVD that documents the dancer’s contribution to flamenco and supports the continued teaching of Spanish arts by her Maria Benítez Institute for Spanish Arts. See www.mariabenitez.com.