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Oh, What a Noche—Celebrating 15 Years of Noche Flamenca at Joe's Pub

by Bonnie Rosenstock
February 19, 2014
Joe's Pub
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette St.
New York, NY 10003
212-967-7555
To celebrate its 15th anniversary at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater, Noche Flamenca, featuring Bessie award-winning Soledad Barrio and her troupe of consummate dancers, musicians and singers returned for 11 shows, from February 18 to 22, 2014 to deliver flamenco at its profound, soulful core—emotive, expressive and electrifying. For the occasion, they performed a program of repertoire highlights, plus a selection from a flamenco interpretation of "Antigona," a new work in progress.

In a phone interview with Martín Santangelo, co-founder and artistic director of Noche Flamenca and Barrio's husband, he related that Shanta Thake, director of Joe's Pub, told him that Noche Flamenca is the reason that dance exists there. "We were the first to dance here," he said. "It's a hot, intimate space and a different way to communicate than in a big theater. We can do the same things, adapted. The nucleus of warmth is astounding, and we feel very comfortable here."

The informal, relaxed setting and compact stage have the same feel as the tablaos in Spain where flamenco is performed. The only problem at Joe's Pub is that if you are sitting on the lower level, in the pit, so to speak, the people sitting in the horseshoe-shaped front row that wraps around the stage obstruct your view of the bottom portion of the stage. For flamenco (or any dance for that matter), you need to see what's going on below the torso. After my seat change to a higher level, I had a satisfactory view of the plantas (ball of the footwork), taconeos (heelwork) and all the fancy footwork in between.

"Antigona," commissioned by Joe's Pub as part of the New York Voices series, is co-directed by Santangelo and theater legend Lee Breuer. It is based on Sophocles's classic "Antigone," the daughter of the unintentional incestuous marriage between King Oedipus and his mother Jocasta. After Oedipus's death, Antigone's two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, were to take turns ruling Thebes. In a battle, they kill each other. Whereas Eteocles gets a hero's burial, Polynices is seen as a traitor, and his body is left outside to rot. Antigone attempts to secure a respectable burial, but the law forbids even mourning as punishable by death.

Although written ca. 441 B.C., it resonates with both Barrio, who is from Madrid, and Santangelo, of Argentine descent because of their respective countries' tragic history. In Argentina, during the military junta's Dirty War (1976-83) the "disappeared," estimated at around 13,000 (not including the known dead), were thrown into mass graves. In Spain, since 2010, the right-wing government has prevented Baltasar Garzón, one of its best-known and internationally recognized human rights judges, from investigating the killing of 114,000 people during the Franco dictatorship (1939 to 1975), including poet/playwright Federico García Lorca, and has banned him from the bench for 11 years. (Garzón is currently head of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's legal team.)

"Garzón has been fighting for the rights of the desaparecidos," said Santangelo. "The families wanted to dig up the mass unmarked graves and give their kids—and the kids wanted to give their parents—a proper burial, and he did that. Many people in Spain asked him to do the same thing. Then suddenly false accusations from the extreme right took away his license to be judge and kicked him out of Spain. I immediately thought of 'Antigone.' It's the same story—the human desire to honor our families, even as humble as throwing some dirt on and saying a couple of prayers. It's a Greek play, but the theme happens over and over again."

Two scenes were linked together, an ode to Zeus and "El Entierro de Polinices" ("The Burial of Polynices"), superbly choreographed by Santangelo and Barrio, with music composed by Antonio Rodríguez and Salva de Maria. Gregg Mozgala opened by reading a segment of the play in English, which flawlessly melded into a chorus in Spanish and set the tone for Antigona's anguish, defiance and determination, expressed through dance, music and song.

On the cramped stage was the riveting Barrio, as Antigona, the excellent dancers (Marina Elena as Antigona's sister Ismene, and Isabel del Día and Xianix Barrera), a guitarist, Rodríguez on cajón (a wooden percussive box) and two men keeping time with palmas. Two large, strange-looking puppets represented the brothers, manipulated by Marina Tsaplina and Jessica Scott, who designed them. The puppets are refugees from Breuer's "La Divina Caricatura," presented last year at La MaMa, and will be replaced by more adequate ones for the full-length production. "Antigona" is slated to premiere at another venue in the late summer (the stage at Joe's Pub is too small) and the Joyce Theater next year. If this "teaser" is any indication, it will be glorious.

After we were put through the emotional wringer, de Maria and Eugenio Iglesias entranced us with a virtuoso guitar duet. Next up were the six male members of the troupe, bailaores Juan Ogalla and Rodríguez, cantaores Manuel Gago and Miguel Rosendo and the two guitarists. Santangelo told me that many of the lyrics were derived from various refugee camps and expressed resistance, desperation and anger.

The fourth and fifth pieces were sweat-inducing dueling solos by Rodríguez and Ogalla. Neither of them fit what Americans imagine flamenco dancers should look like (although in Spain, age and girth is of no consequence). The seasoned duo more than proved their coraje (daring) in footwork, endurance and showmanship. Rodríguez was all the more remarkable for the fact that he was dancing on a fractured big toe and would be out for the rest of the run.

Then the two singers performed Martinetes, a form of singing without musical accompaniment. The gifted Gago had a higher range, with all the catches, vibrato and throaty modulations so characteristic of Calo (gypsy) and Arabic vocalizations. Rosendo's voice had a deeper quality, which was also quite effective.

For the finale, Barrio danced a solo Soleá in a simple black dress with two ruffles, accompanied by the singers and guitarists. Soleá is characterized by long, rhythmic sequences of footwork (escobillas), which Barrio performed with precision, focus and indefatigability. Barrio is an intense, inward performer, who connects with her audience, not with grandstanding, but with the power of her own emotional journey. Where she goes is anyone's guess, but we are fortunate to be part of the trip.

For more information about Barrio and Noche Flamenca, go to www.soledadbarrioandnocheflamenca.com and www.facebook.com/nocheflamenca.
Soledad Barrio. Photo courtesy of Noche Flamenca

Soledad Barrio. Photo courtesy of Noche Flamenca


Soledad Barrio. Photo courtesy of Noche Flamenca

Soledad Barrio. Photo courtesy of Noche Flamenca

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