Noche Flamenca's Artistic Director and choreographer Martin Santangelo, has a sure hand with stagecraft and his Antigona is well put together.

The show opened with Manuel Gago singing the part of Creon and driving the narrative. Ultimately, however, this work depends upon the archetypal authority of Soledad Barrio’s Antigone for success. And that’s not a bad thing, since she has dramatic muscle in abundance. Barrio’s duet with Marina Elana’s Ismene was incredibly potent. The scene where she forces Ismene to confront the terrible crime that Creon committed in letting their brother remain unburied was scorching. It also underscores the difference between the two. Antigone risks everything to satisfy the demands of the gods for justice while Ismene fails to live up to her obligations to her family and the gods. Barrio’s Antigone riveted our attention on the injustice perpetrated on their brother.The musical interlude played by guitarist Eugenio Iglesias was gloriously beautiful – his instrument is one of the most perfect sounding guitars in the world. The women, as the chorus, were both portentous and succesful. The Tiresias of Pepe el Bocadillo was emotionally sung and full of divine menace.

Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca in <i>Antigona</i> © Robert Morrison
Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca in Antigona
© Robert Morrison
There was a great deal to enjoy here; but some parts of this Antigone worked less well than others. David Thomas as Eteocles was a fine hip hop dancer and it was perhaps worth the experiment of folding him into this piece...But ultimately, it didn’t succeed. This is a flamenco work and without the ability to access the percussive power of stomping heels, Thomas was unable to match the intensity of the other dancers. He faded into relative impotence and his gestures carried no weight. This was a disappointment as we could well have expected much from the power of his menacing glare into the audience at the start of the piece. In the finale, Barrio was forced to make a choice between life with Haemon and death with honor. The original play by Sophocles ends with pretty much everyone dead except for Creon. Here, Santangelo has chosen to end the dance with Antigone choosing to die rather than capitulate and betray her divine obligation to her brother. We were transfixed by this dreadful conclusion but it had more to do with the indelible dramatic spirit of Soledad Barrio, than the strength of the directorial decision and of the work.

The second part of the evening was a traditional Noche Flamenca show. Opening with Amanecer, the full company seized the audience with joyous exuberance and great generosity of spirit among the performers. Juan Ogalla’s Alegrías was the best I’ve ever seen from him. He was the master of the crowd and thrilled it all the way. The 'olés' came from all corners as he strutted and preened. His foot speed was breathtaking, his machismo at its finest. It was delivered with a wink but backed up by real potency. When he strode off the stage with his jacket casually draped over his shoulder, hisn smile of satisfacion was well-earned.

Soledad Barrio © Robert Morrison
Soledad Barrio
© Robert Morrison
The reason we all went to the show was for Barrio’s Solea, which closed the show. She is a star and this is where she does her best work. In her solo she explored grief and solitude and most of all, duende, the essence of flamenco. More than any other dancer, Barrio is a genius at gathering the collective energy of the crowd and compressing it into an explosive mix that she unleashes at the audience. She has the power of a bruja, conjures magic with her dance and gives birth to a deeply personal, transcendent experience that she generously shares with the audience. This is what is at the heart of going to see live performances, we, audience members, always hoping for transfiguration in the theatrical experience. This is what it meant by duende, the expression of a shared catharsis that profoundly affects us all. Barrio is conscious of her ability to produce this effect in her audience and feels the responsibility to give it everything she has, every night she performs. What’s astonishing is the regularity with which she achieves such heights of expression. As great a performer as Juan Ogalla is, neither he nor anyone else I can think of comes close to that ideal. Any time Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca perform is an opportunity not to be missed.

 

Since this review was published, it has been pointed out that Antigona, as performed on the 30th October at The Joyce Theater, New York City,was only an excerpt of a fuller work; and this was not made clear to audience or reviewers at the time.

****1