It’s been thirteen years since Juan Manuel Fernandez Montoya, El Farruquito, last performed in New York. Descended from legendary flamenco artists, El Farruquito carries the substantial weight of a family legacy compounded by a troubled personal past. It hasn’t been an easy time for him. He was a young, rising star who landed in prison and needed redemption. Given what a sensation he was on his first trip to New York, the expectations were high for this performance. I’m glad to say that this was a triumphant return, hopefully the first of many.

This tightly focused production is free of extraneous flashiness and has much in common with a stripped down traditional tablao show. It’s really all about the music, the singing and the dancing. Dramatic emphasis was provided by stark white columns of light that highlighted each of the performers during solos and they were all great. A couple of backwashes of colored light on the backdrop lent an austere atmosphere of seriousness. The supporting ensemble included four singers, a percussionist, two dancers and two guitarists. The four cantaores were Encarna Anillo, Pepe de Pura, Mari Vizárraga and Antonio Zúñiga, all of whom were immersed in Gypsy vocal tradition. De Pura and Vizárraga especially exemplified the dramatic vocal style of flamenco. My wife hates this sort of melismatic singing but you can’t please everyone. The guitarists José Gálvez and Román Vicenti were terrific, especially in their duo which made use of a column of light to show only the hands of three performers clapping out the compas while they played. The percussionist, el Polito, delivered the surprise of the night by coming on for the Fin de Fiesta and dancing with surprising skill. It was all simple and powerful, proving that you don’t need to be showy when you’re that good.

Gema Moneo danced opposite el Farruquito in the opening Seguirilla and she was gorgeous. She is fun to watch and they clearly enjoyed trading the spotlight. She is a traditionalist style-wise and she is commanding in her stage presence without being melodramatic. Every time she hiked her dress up to show off her footwork she had a bit of a sly smile edged with fierce concentration. She brims with sweetness and sensitivity which became apparent when she cried during the curtain call.

There is much to say about el Farruquito. For starters, he’s a star who knows he’s a star. He’s the brightest light of a family that counts its time at the top of Spain’s flamenco circuit in generations. That air of noblesse oblige lends a certain amount of Las Vegas style preening to his dancing as he stomps out a brilliant sequence of zapateado, finishes with a flourish and then stops in a statuesque pose to let you applaud. He knows you’re going to clap and you know it too, but there’s something of the cock of the walk about him. Fortunately, he comes across as reasonably likeable so you don’t overly resent it but I wish he would tone that down. While this show is billed as Improvisao, most of it clearly isn’t improvised. Enough of it seems to be spontaneous that it isn’t overly contrived but it certainly is carefully thought out. He does many things impeccably. His footwork is terrific. He paws at the floor with his feet and moves across it with a smooth, gliding sweep that is uncommon in flamenco dancing. He uses the whole stage authoritatively, flying rapidly back and forth. He plays with his center of balance, subtly shifting his weight back and forth with taut control. He can be elegant, fiery and dazzling, but he’s always working within the framework of the troupe. He knows he’s the star attraction but he’s generous with sharing the spotlight. The rapport of the performers with each other on stage was strong which is as good an indication as any that he’s doing things right off stage as well as on. In short, while there may be some things to quibble about he is one of the top flamenco dancers right now. On this opening night of his return engagement he turned in a terrific performance that brought down the house.

As the opening show for City Center’s contribution to the Flamenco Festival, Improvisao was a great selection. Outstanding musicians, singers and dancers came together and gave out tremendous energy. When el Farruquito spoke a few words to the audience after his Soleá, he was humble and thankful. He seemed sincerely appreciative and glad to be back in New York. Still young at thirty-three, he has a lot of productive years ahead of him. Hopefully his troubled times are over and he will return for future engagements.