By HEATHER WISNER
Pure happiness doesn’t seem to exist in flamenco; a hint of melancholy, a sense of world weariness, suffuses the music and the dance. But there is pure happiness to be found in watching flamenco, especially when it’s done very well.
Ballet Flamenco Jesús Carmona does flamenco very well. Following a weekend stint at New York’s Flamenco Festival, the Madrid-based company made its Portland debut with Ímpetus, a suite of dances that delivers substance with style.
Carmona—wiry, charismatic and impressively fleet of foot—has stretched himself beyond traditional flamenco: He is a former principal dancer with Ballet Nacional de España and has studied tap with American hoofer Jared Grimes. That artistic expansiveness comes through in the show’s technical and stylistic variety. Backed by live musicians and singer Jonatan Reyes, Ímpetus features six dancers (Carmona among them) performing in shifting configurations against a simple backdrop of criss-crossing black lines, dramatically lit by David Pérez. The opening piece, set to the music of Albéniz, is a prime example, with spotlights on soloists switching on and off suddenly, and dancers emerging and receding in starkly contrasting pools of light and shadow.
Carmona’s ballet training is most obvious in a batterie-filled pas de deux for a man and a woman (batterie is the beating or crossing the feet or calves together during a leap) , and in the pirouettes that unspool throughout the show, although they differ from classical ballet as the performer, arms curved overhead, angles the upper body forward instead of keeping it upright and centered. Carmona, who choreographed the show, is especially adept at whipping off multiple turns, although this is a technically accomplished group all told.
Belen de la Quintana’s costume design may not be what first-time flamenco-goers would expect, and there are advantages in this, especially in the aforementioned pas de deux, where the woman’s silvery short skirts whirl above their knees as they jump, revealing surprise glimpses of contrasting red underskirts—a long-trained gown would make such movement difficult at best.
But Ímpetus also has plenty of what viewers likely would expect: flexible torsos (one face-off between the men recalled the back-bending bullet dodge in The Matrix), a contrast between lyrical and staccato movement and a serpentine quality to the arms and hands—although there are also short bursts of static arm movements reminiscent of popping. Best of all is the many kinds of percussion, thrilling to the ear, from soft handclaps and finger snaps to resounding chest thumps and the barrages of fast footwork and chattering castanets, features of the classical Spanish escuela bolera. You know it’s good when a movement danced so precisely makes you want to shout.
With this 75-minute show (no intermission, no encore), Carmona left the audience on its feet, wanting more. And as it turns out, they will get it—sort of. An excited murmur rippled through the crowd when White Bird cofounders Paul King and Walter Jaffe, in their pre-show announcements, said that Carmona will teach flamenco workshops for beginning and advanced dancers April 19-22 at Lake Oswego’s Lakewood Center for the Arts. After this show, excitement at that prospect has probably reached a fever pitch.