by Byron Woods
Tonight, Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca take UNC's Memorial Hall through a passionate tour of this Spanish dance and musical form. The name should be familiar: the group closed the American Dance Festival in 2006 -- with a vengeance. Here's what we found in our July 26, 2006 review:
"At the end of the first act, we'd been all but catapulted out of Page Auditorium on the bravado and the daring of dancer Juan Oglalla's "Maria - Alegrias." His solo was equal parts psychodrama and dance, as it deceptively swayed from cool disregard to laser-like insistence.
We watched as he negotiated a polyrhythmic labyrinth and technical torture chamber of his own devising; a hellish gauntlet of 30-second and 32nd-note subdivisions within already subdivided syncopated beats.
Call it dancing on a tightrope for one. But that would ignore guitarists Eugenio Iglesias and Luis Miguel Manzano, and the singing of cantaores Manuel Gago, Emilio Florido and Nieves Diaz who kept the melodic line taut -- that is, when they didn't give it a good hard snap, every so often, just to ensure the continued interest of all parties.
By the end of Act 1, the audience was certain it had been petitioned, harangued, warned, pleaded with and advised by the cantaores, even though the overwhelming majority couldn't understand a word they'd said. The dancers' eyes didn't search the darkness before them; they studied it instead. The harsh, hoarse voices of the singers, rubbed raw with emotion, cried out again and again over what they knew. Repeatedly, the performers' hands grasped, bent and broke off notes in mid-breath. Then their outstretched palms opened, as if holding the excavated facts of desolation.
We were being served notice: Love beckons loss. And as for the particulars? They're as meaningless as the tongue in which they're sung.
What kept all of this from veering into parody? What divides drama from melodrama? Sincerity, perhaps. Or maybe it's a certain cautionary knowledge: Suffering is universal. Perhaps that's why we didn't need a translator for this particular performance. On an innate level, we all recognize a cry of pain.
Our tutelage that night included emphatic dances that fully acknowledged the extremity of passion and pain; dances that faced the darkness squarely with a ferocious -- and, ultimately, finite -- dignity.
Was this an obscure dance and musical form, rendered in a language even more obscure? No. It was a return to the very foundation of the drama instead -- the classic form of tragedy.