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Sara Baras, Stomping through “Shadows” at New York City Center

by Bonnie Rosenstock
April 9, 2019
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
If bailaora Sara Baras had performed just her opening number, “Sombras” (Shadows), also the name of the production (U.S. premiere, March 7-10) and then packed up her flamenco shoes and gone home, it would have been enough. Her stage presence and intensity were spellbinding, as her insistent stomping bore down hard on the stage floor. But that initial riveting footwork proved to be a tedious riveting jackhammer as if smashing through concrete as she performed the same repetitive, unvaried whole-footed golpes (stomps) in every number. What Cádiz-born Baras, 48, produced was seductive smoke and mirrors. Stamina and dispassion over substance and passion.

Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras, helmed by choreographer/director Baras, performed like a well-oiled machine, drawing on tableaux, dramatic lighting, multiple scrims and countless costume changes. That opening number was magical, as it gradually introduced the audience to the flamenco diva and her troupe of six talented dancers, four women and two men, and seven virtuoso musicians, including two singers, one with a higher voice range and the other with the more guttural deeper voice. Bathed in a yellow light, the dancers formed a tableau of black silhouettes. Baras’ driving footwork resonated like multiple people dancing, as she was equipped with a stadium-sized amplification system somewhere on her body or shoes.

Baras gave short shrift to the traditional mantón (large fringed shawl) that flamenco dancers use to fling about in intricate patterns. Instead, she used a small scarf and whirled like a windmill. In her “Serrana” solo (serrana is a serious, “deep” flamenco rhythm), she wore a blue dress which had an extra length of fabric on the shoulder, which she whipped around toga-like. When she later introduced a mantón, it felt like an afterthought, as after a few passes, it wound up on the floor. She then draped the train on her dress over her arm or whipped it around with her foot, but also not for very long.

An especially dramatic number consisted of six inverted cones of light, all beaming down to highlight and frame Baras’ magnetic physical presence. Later, she became a whirlwind in a multi-fringed dress that emitted sparkles of lights, after which she stomped out the same rapid footwork, accompanied by unimpressive arm positions.

The six dancers had some fine moments. They performed a terrific number with fans that began and ended with silhouettes. Wearing suits, they executed an exciting rhythm-driven seldom-performed dance with canes.

Three of the dances in the 14-part show were accompanied by voiceover vocals of song or poetry in Spanish, with translations in the program. In addition to guitars, flute, harmonica, saxophone and array of percussion, there was also an intriguing flattened jug-like instrument that I had never seen before, which gave off a hollow bass or metallic sound when hit.

Baras is a force of nature, and her well-orchestrated show—some would arguably say overproduced—is both highly entertaining and disappointing. However, for authentic duende (soul), go see the stripped-down intimate, passion-driven flamenco of, say, Soledad Barrio and Sonia Olla, both Spaniards based in New York, or the iconoclast Olga Pericet, who all perform multi-complex fancy footwork to perfection. Less bang and more pluck.
File photo, Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras.

File photo, Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras.

Photo © & courtesy of Peter Mueller

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