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Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana
'Navidad Flamenca'

'Jaleos,' 'Solea por Bulerias,' 'Soleares,' 'Alegrias,' 'Farruca,' 'Suite de la Seguiriya' and 'Rumba Flamenca'

by Carmel Morgan

November 30, 2008 -- Music Center at Strathmore, Bethesda, Maryland

As an alternative to the annual parade of humdrum Nutcrackers, Bethesda’s Music Center at Strathmore offered flamenco dancing by Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana to get dance fans in the holiday spirit.  It’s difficult to imagine flamenco being humdrum on any occasion.  Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana, an American company founded in 1983, performs annually at the Joyce Theater in New York City and has a second home in North Carolina, where Santana is on the faculty of Duke University.  The company’s Christmas-themed show, which is part of their touring season, may be a clever way to get patrons in the door, but these dancers would warm up a crowd even without the holiday hype.

The dancers began clapping and tapping their feet on a darkened stage.  When the lights came up, the audience observed a casual arrangement of tables and chairs and an untrimmed tree.  To the tunes of a guitarist, women wound gold and silver garlands around the tiny tree.  The atmosphere was tender and inviting.  Guests arrived toting gifts and wine.  Everyone exchanged hugs and kisses.  A woman in a lacy white dress, in the role of a child, placed a star atop the tree.  Carolers sang and played the tambourine.  And amidst all this holiday cheer was, of course, dancing!

The women (Julia Chacón, Rebeca Tomás, Fanny Ava, and Estefania Ramirez) made lovely spirals with their curvy bodies.  These were not skinny teens in tutus but attractive, healthy figures.  Upper bodies twisted, knees bent, wrists spun, hips swayed, and feet fervently thwacked the floor.  The men (Antonio Hidalgo and Fermín Calvo de Mora) danced, too.  Their knees came up high like marching band members.  Their hands stabbed the air above their heads.  The musicians -- two guitarists (Calvin Hazen and Ricardo Anglada) and two vocalists (Félix de Lola and “La Megue”) -- joined in the party by adding live accompaniment and even dancing.  It was truly a festive affair.  Although a large white star appeared on the backdrop, the real stars were the company members who lit the room with their colorful, traditional merrymaking.

“Jaleos,” a work choreographed by Associate Artistic Director Antonio Hidalgo, followed intermission.  Here the dancers truly shined.  The piece began with dark figures against a red backdrop.  The dancers’ hands, contorted above them, looked like antlers.  When the lights came up, we saw that the women were wearing floor-length polka dot dresses with ruffled trim and vibrant flowers in their pulled back hair.  Later, several break-out solos and a sexy duet took place.

At times the music became slow and sad.  A female dancer bent her back, echoing the arch in the elegant fan she held in her hand.  She kicked the cascade of ruffles that swiveled behind her, dramatically tossing this mermaid-like tail.  At one point, she lifted her skirt to reveal her busy feet.  One leg crossed and re-crossed the other at a furious pace.

Hidalgo performed a show-stopping solo.  His hips remained square as he stopped and turned, stopped and turned, around and around.  Then he stood remarkably still as one leg shook fast, with the force of an earthquake.  His very masculine dancing met with the evening’s most thunderous applause.

The performance by Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana illustrated the richness of flamenco as an art form and also its wide appeal.  This company’s brand of flamenco is fiery and sensuous and extremely enjoyable.  If you’re tired of the same old Nutcracker, by all means give flamenco a try!

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