Basic flamenco

 A no-frills, thrilling evening
By MARCIA SIEGEL  |  November 29, 2010

Gitanería, the flamenco show headed by Angelita Vargas and Jairo Barrull, doesn’t feature smoky duets, theatrical staging, or gorgeous gowns with 10-foot ruffly trains. This is flamenco straight up, with rudimentary lighting, hissy amplification, and a cast of two guitarists, three singers, and two dancers all wearing basic black. You get nothing but the satisfaction of deep-drawn rhythm.

Instead of a winter flamenco weekend this year, World Music/CRASHarts brought us a two-performance “Fall Flamenco Festival” at Berklee Performance Center. Vargas and Barrull performed on Friday night, and Pepe Torres and company on Sunday. The great flamenco guitarist Paco Peña will be coming in February for a concert in Somerville.

Gitanería began in high gear, with fast guitars and clapping to announce the entrance of Jairo Barrull, then Vargas, for an introductory sample of their dancing. Barrull is big and rugged, with a ponytail halfway down his back. He has some of the fastest footwork I’ve ever seen, but unlike many male flamenco dancers, he seems to dance over the ground, not into it. He contained his energy in the narrow space between his feet, flicking it off sometimes, in little kicks and crossovers. He used his arms and upper body to emphasize his step punctuations and to salute the audience, but mostly it was his footwork that claimed my attention.

In his big solos he’d walk very slowly and deliberately around the edge of the stage, as if gathering up ideas, and then rocket into a sequence of impossibly fast and clear steps. He reminded me of a tap dancer with his machine-gun attack, his sideways scoots across the stage, his clattering tirades with the right leg winging out to the side, back, and front, and his minute embroidery on the basic rhythm. Once in a while he’d spring up into the air in a rush of excess momentum. He finished each long eruption of trills and raps with a sudden thrust into the floor and a triumphant look at the audience. Then he’d begin his patrolling again.

Angelita Vargas is billed as a kind of elder stateswoman of flamenco. At 61, she’s a bit portly, not beautiful, and commanding. She appears initially in a black ruffled skirt and a severe black jacket. But later, when she pulls up her skirt to give her feet more room, she reveals a ruffled polka-dot underskirt. Her final costume is black with big pink dots and a pink underskirt. But she doesn’t go in for fancy. When the ornamental combs flew out of her hair and dropped to the floor, she kicked them into the wings.

Her dance wasn’t as intricate as Barrull’s, but it was more varied in rhythm and expression. She’d come on stage looking plain and unassuming, but then she’d let loose strings of quiet, rapid foot beats, stomping heels, and majestic, curving arm gestures. Changing speed and force, she’d deliberately turn her body to show every angle of her ample form. Other times, the curling path of her hands and arms would pivot her around or wrench her torso tight into a twist.

She seemed to be having a dialogue with the musicians, especially when one of them was singing to her. Then she’d turn and gaze at the audience as if to include us in the conversation. There was anger in her eyes — and suspicion, assertion, appeal, the sheer grit of a lifetime.

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  Topics: Dance , Berklee Performance Center, World Music/CRASHarts, Flamenco,  More more >
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