Two Views of "Flamenco Hoy"

February 22, 2011

Flamenco Hoy
by Carlos Saura

New York City Center, NYC

February 16–20, 2011


Rafael Estévez, Patricia Guerrero, Nani Paños in “Por Alegrías de Satisfaccion,” the finale of
Flamenco Hoy. Photo by Francisco Esteve, courtesy City Center.


This winter, New York fans of film master Carlos Saura had two reasons to cheer him on. The film Flamenco, Flamenco, presented at the 2011 Dance on Camera Festival, represents Saura’s latest cinematic survey of music, song, and dance based in, though not limited to, the grand traditions of Spain’s Andalucía region. For those craving live performance, Saura also whipped up a new confection called Flamenco Hoy by Carlos Saura, dazzling crowds at City Center over seven performances.

These two works exemplify Saura’s move away from the melodramatic narratives of his 1980s flamenco films—all starring superstar dancer-choreographer Antonio Gades—toward variety showcases with sumptuous production values. Flamenco (1995) and its eye-popping sequel Flamenco, Flamenco feature numerous performers in a collage of approaches to flamenco. The newer film introduces far more innovative performers, surpassing Flamenco Hoy both in sensual beauty and artistic daring. But the stage production was impressive in its own right.

Flamenco Hoy
’s collaborating choreographers, heartful Rafael Estévez and flashy Nani Paños (both featured as dancers) concentrated on the interplay of flamenco with the formal discipline of ballet and the sauciness of jazz. Ensemble numbers, like the opening seguiriya or a later pasodoble that could have been crafted by Bob Fosse, sizzled with Broadway-ready precision and force. Pliant, spirited Patricia Guerrero, dancing the flirtatious guajira, and Laura Rozalén, queenly in size and charisma, were unforgettably entertaining.

Flamenco Hoy
, though it surely displeased purists, risked very little with its modest degree of experimentation. Still, this production suits Saura’s mission to depict Andalucía, yesterday and today (“hoy”), as a dynamo in continuous dialogue with a world of interesting rhythms and ideas. The live instrumentation—with Chano Domínguez on piano; Antonio Rey on guitar; Ernesto Aurignac on saxophone and flute; Martín Meléndez on bass and cello; and Isidro Suarez on percussion—might have been unconventional for flamenco but never less than delicious. Rubio de Pruna and Israel, two of the featured singers, unfailingly brought expressive richness and duende to every scene in which they performed.

Some fans might have missed the straightforward intimacy of Martín Santangelo’s Noche Flamenca, but this was City Center after all; the requirements are quite different. Strong amplification projected music and voices, though rarely to an abrasive or muddying degree. Saura had to make do without cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s wizardry, but he pulled out favorite visual effects like mirrored panels and colors so strong they should get a paycheck and a credit in the program. Lighting designer Paco Belda saturated space in glowing red or orange, carved distinct shards of deep purple or blue and white, and created fantastical patterns in smoky air.

Flamenco Hoy
could be improved by cutting some mournful pieces that are just plain hokey and energy-sapping, a familiar weak link in the Saura oeuvre. Otherwise, its two hours moved swiftly. Any time you can return from intermission thinking, “Give me more, more, more,” you’re in the right place. —Eva Yaa Asantewaa




Without the benefit of blockbuster Flamenco names, filmmaker Carlos Saura created a terrifically engaging evening of dance and music. A satisfying, sometimes heady blend of flamenco and ballet, Flamenco Hoy was choreographed by Rafael Estévez and Nani Paños. The preening and strutting of many flamenco concerts were replaced by a fresh, well-crafted series of vignettes, each with a different focus. Although the dancing never reached the fevered pitch of, say, an Eva Yerbabuena, the visual drama, bold shapes, and vigorous spirit held many pleasures. One of which was that each of the 19 sections had an actual, choreographed ending—unusual for flamenco.

As performers, Estévez and Paños are opposites. Estévez is a teddy bear of a man while Paños is like a thin strip of steel. Estévez is spontaneous, playful, twisting the flamenco shapes beyond perfection while Paños pushes to accomplish leaps and turns à la seconde amid his jabbing flamenco heelwork.

The most conceptual sequence, “Boccherini’s Fandangos as a Dance Class,” in which the stage was made to look like a dance studio, was also one of the most enjoyable. Castanets clattered like dancers chatting while the ensemble warmed up and stretched. Estévez played the teacher correcting the others in Spanish—with an understated humor that broke through language barriers. Paños dashed through the group with his ballet pyrotechnics.

The vocalists’ powerful voices rang out, reaching the very depths of sorrow and hope. (Rubio de Pruna, Alba Carmona, and Israel were particularly stirring.) One could hear the Jewish, African, and Gypsy influences. When piano and saxophone were included, the music got jazzy. The voices called, exhorted, warned, grieved, celebrated, howled, rapped, and just talked. And the dancing did so too, with Estévez finding the most freedom. Other standouts were Patricia Guerrero (who performed a wonderful fan dance) and ensemble dancer Rosana Romero, a tall woman whose hips lilted nicely when her heels were going.

Another high point was the sevillanas, for five or six couples. Here Estévez danced with Laura Rozalén, a heavy woman whose delight in dancing was palpable. With these two, an infectious vitality bubbled up to a point where the singing and dancing were inseparable. —Wendy Perron


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