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Soledad Barrios dares to touch us, to appeal to our empathy, and evoke an image of courage despite impossible circumstances. This Madrileña, acclaimed by Alastair Macauley to be one of the greatest dancers of any genre, seems now to transcend dance all together. She commands our attention, emotionally and spiritually. She could be singing an aria or standing for a painter wrestling with a portrait of dignity in the face of death.
When I first saw Soledad perform, Noche Flamenca was still an idea yet to be conceived. She had come to perform in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the invitation of Martin Santangelo, her current husband, father of her two children, and artistic director of Noche Flamenca. Martin was performing then for Maria Benitez Company, along with Alejandro Granados, a dancer from a family of flamencos, known for his relaxed, eccentric wit who is performing this week in Noche Flamenca. Almost twenty years ago now, Soledad was fast and feisty. Her fury was infectious. It was all I could do to keep from challenging her to a fight back-stage. In-your-face, raw, and scrappy, she had an erotic edge.
Perhaps Soledad was just picking up the trend in flamenco at that time, which was to go as fast and punk as possible. But over time, she has sanded off those rough edges, matured her intense dance with elegance and and restraint. For a time, she moved with an archness that was playful. Slowly her presence became her masterpiece, more than her steps or style, her look, as precise as those are. Now a shade of raw is re-emerging. Miraculously, her performance of the flamenco "palo" Solea seems to bypass a personal statement to speak for anyone who endures pain, alone.
Never having witnessed Sarah Bernhardt, I can't compare Soledad to that legend but I can bow to a choreography and presence that dares to tackle tragedy. The overlapping of the singers at the beginning of her solo continues to haunt me with its poignancy. I wonder what Pina Bausch would have thought of her performance, what notes she would give her or further challenges.
Noche Flamenca continues at the Joyce Theater through Sunday, September 30th.