Last Wednesday, on the opening night of Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca’s Íntimo, patrons of the Joyce Theater were transported to an underground café in Spain. The illusion was aided, in part, by the exposed brick walls at the back of the stage, not to mention the several audience members who impulsively yelled out “Olé!” For a short while, these exclamations caused heads to turn quizzically, but it didn’t take long for most to embrace these customary interjections of excitement. Indeed, it would have been hard not to, given the exceptional talent and passion of the Madrid-born Barrio along with her and her husband Martín Santangelo’s company of dancers, singers, and musicians.
The program starts with La Ronde, which challenges many of the norms in traditional flamenco dance. Based in part on the 1950 Max Ophüls film of the same name, La Ronde refers to the interconnected relationships we find ourselves in and the cycles of life that circle through pain and joy, love and loss. The film’s wistful yet witty nature is challenged by artistic director Santangelo’s version, in which lament and suffering overcome the artists onstage. Santangelo sets the scene with seven dancers sitting in chairs in a long diagonal; guitarists and percussionists stretch out on their right side. Barrio, in a long, plum-colored dress, stands out among the crop as they all initiate movement from their chest and spiral their wrists. A lone female singer, Carmina Cortes, walks behind the row of chairs, a seeming master of ceremonies (the role Anton Walbrook plays in the Ophüls film). Considering the setting and the vague characterizations given to the dancers, La Ronde appears more aligned with theater-dance than traditional flamenco — a form-blurring quality it shares with Santangelo’s 2014 Antigona, an adaptation of the Sophocles play Antigone.
La Ronde weaves through various duets, whether between two dancers, or a single dancer and a musician. Where traditional flamenco defines steps, costumes, and roles for each gender, La Ronde breaks these barriers. In one particularly captivating vignette, Barrio wears leather pants with a black blouse, and performs the same steps as her male counterpart. Women usually ornament their dance with circular arm movements and upper-body arching, while the men typically stay upright and stomp percussively with purpose. But in La Ronde, the steps are less strictly divided; they are an amalgamation of the two modes, giving the dancers a chance to show equal mastery as they mirror each other. The pairs routinely come together in a passionate embrace after building a wall of magnetic force between their bodies.
Íntimo also offers traditional solo work by the extremely passionate Juan Ogalla, as well as a sensual duet, Achispar, between Marina Elana and Carlos Menchaca. All the pieces on view are a choreographic collaboration between Martín Santangelo and the company; the range of original music comes from guitarists Eugenio Iglesias and Salva de María, percussionist David “Chupete” Rodriguez, guitarist and bassist Hamed Traore, and Santangelo himself. While each solo served as a glimpse into the dancer’s private and personal expressions, the performers sometimes stepped out of the world they created for themselves to acknowledge the singers (Manuel Gago, Emilio Florido) and to gather strength from their overpowering vocal outpourings.
Prior to the opening night of Íntimo, the company posted a clip of choreography on Instagram from a previous stop along their tour. Notably, below the accompanying caption, is this hashtag: #duende. We’ve had some sweeping social-media movements recently; this one, though more specific, holds the intimate and fiery history of flamenco in one mysterious term. To have duende, in layman’s terms, is to have soul, passion, and a need to release emotion from a dark, interior place. It is, therefore, inextricably tied to flamenco. Most famously analyzed by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca in 1933, the word has now been carefully placed in the 21st-century social-media arena. The company’s use of the hashtag reminds us of their mission: to preserve authentic, traditional flamenco, while also pushing the form’s boundaries to find relevancy in the contemporary dance scene.