The Charleston Concert Association brought Ballet Flamenco José Porcel to town to strut its stuff (literally!) before a happy, near-capacity crowd at the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium last Tuesday.
I've long thought of flamenco ballet as a kind of tap-dancing on steroids. The dancers' legs seem nearly immobile, as their high-heeled feet (boots for the men) drum out their insistent rhythms. But their upper bodies and arms sway and shift, often flashing abruptly from one stylized posture to another as they interpret the passionate music.
And the music came courtesy of the troupe's own crack six-member combo: two fiery guitars, a wind player (flute and sax), a percussionist, and two fine, burry-voiced singers (male and female).
Most of it featured the wailing, microtonal vocals that reflect the Arab branch of flamenco's multicultural roots. Still, some modern musical elements seemed to dilute the pure flamenco spirit here and there.
Strong rhythm is the name of the game in flamenco, and the dancers' clearly audible tapping and stomping was utterly true to the beat, making for some astonishing precision of movement. Dancers and singers further reinforced it with some heavy hand-clapping. Oddly, the use of castanets (usually a staple) was restricted to just one of the eight dance scenes.
And the men's proud, ultra-macho execution reflected the music perfectly — as did the only slightly less forceful dancing of the women. No shrinking violets here; flamenco femininity is of the aggressive variety, every bit as passionate and sensual as the men's own testosterone-fueled strutting.
Only more graceful.
There were eight dancers in all: four of each sex, including flamenco star Porcel and his terrific (but unnamed) "leading bailaora" (ballerina).
Nimble and delicate, she was a smoldering stage presence. Porcel was a physical and interpretive wonder. He was the only male dancer with the classic flamenco build: tall and slender, but athletic with impossibly long legs. His boots were often a staccato blur, as he executed intricate footwork — and his emotive posturing made his solo scenes sizzle.
Costumes, while colorful, were a bit puzzling. While the ladies wore the long, layered, swishy dresses you look for in flamenco, the gents avoided traditional garb altogether, in favor of modern street dress.
While I'd never go for a steady diet of flamenco, this engaging performance made for a delightful change of pace. Olé.