Concha Vargas and Pilar Rioja, more advanced in years than most flamenco dancers touring New York last fall, performed with lightning speed and seasoned skill. Vargas, a 180-pound diva, dashes brutishly across the stage in her long Bulerias sequence of quicksilver footwork. Moorish fandangos illuminate her Duncan-esque unfolding of arms and hands that gesture to the audience, articulating the poetic meter of her singer’s chant. If only Vargas, a seasoned Gypsy dancer, had performed the entire evening, rather than sharing the bill with singer La Macanita, a far less intriguing presence.
Rioja, a devotee of preperformance meditation, created a two-hour, 10-solo evening, beckoning spectators into a minimalist stage space of Zen design. Rioja’s world, unlike Vargas’s, consists of modern women, Spanish and Gypsy, illuminated by shards of painfully bright white light and costumed in exquisite layers of sequins and silks. Out of darkness, Rioja steps carefully onto the tiny Gramercy Arts stage in Oración del Torero, already moments into a meditative stance of turning, twisting, endlessly wrapping a red sheath, the ultimate Gypsy dress, about her slight frame. Blood, death, and the bullfight come to mind as she weaves one tableau vivant into the next.
Space becomes Rioja’s partner in Jacara, a sensual personification of body as neoclassical pillar, arms raised in praise to heaven. In Ritmos, long, fierce footwork sequences display devotion to the earth and the elderly Rioja’s endurance. Dionysian and noble, Vargas and Rioja, sure prophets of choreographed folklore and feminist interpretation, connect earth to dance, Gypsy flamenco to European colonial history.