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Compania Rafael Amargo - Tiempo Muerto

by Sarah Hart
September 20, 2008
Town Hall
123 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 840-2824
The lights darken and murmurs subside. Onstage, a curtain is slowly illuminated vivid crimson and nine silhouetted figures file in. I'm excited. This will be the first flamenco performance I've ever seen and I have reason to expect the best. Rafael Amargo, born in Granada, Southern Spain, the heartland of flamenco, has been widely praised for his exceptional dancing, his command of flamenco's essence, and his bold choreography. His achievements are all the more remarkable because he is so young. Amargo started his company, Compania Rafael Amargo, 13 years ago when he was just 22. Tiempo Muerto is his sixth show and he is not only the principle dancer, but also primary choreographer, art director, and composer.

When the music starts I am immediately struck by its thrilling urgency. It is the singing, however, that really impresses. I have heard "passion" and "drama" used abundantly to describe flamenco, but I am startled nonetheless by the almost desperate emotion and seemingly personal anguish that Maite Maya and Carmina Cortes, standing center stage, draped in black lace, occasionally thrusting out their arms and clutching their garments, convey.

Four beautiful dancers swirl in, feet pounding, arms whirling and then catching, crisply taut, in elegant arcs. They are followed by the much-anticipated Amargo. He wears dashingly tight trousers and his long hair whirls and clings wetly to his face. The exuberance and incredible skill for which he is known is immediately apparent—but, watching him dance, especially when Maya steps out and sings directly to him while the others clap and call out—I realize that what is really so compelling about this dance is in that concentrated attention and energy between musicians and dancer. Throughout the performance, when Amargo danced alone, the musicians would lean in towards him, urging him along, and as the energy built he would move as if possessed—as if the pressing rhythm and aching song had generated such power that he was overwhelmed and absolutely impelled to dance.

It was moments like those that made this performance remarkable. Although the obviously choreographed movements—as in the third when Eli Ayala dances a fluid, lyrical melding of modern and flamenco—were beautiful, it was when the interaction between musicians, singers, and dancers seemed organic and unchoreographed that the performance was truly spectacular. Especially touching was a long segment, starting with just the two guitar players and two singers sitting face to face and playing solos, when Eli Ayala and Susi Parra each danced alone while the others encircled around them. The tempo adjusted to the dancer's movement, and the dancer seemed to be drawing her energy directly from the encouragement of the music-makers.

At such times, when the performers' uninhibited expressions, or seemingly impromptu gestures, or highly individual styles, conveyed so eloquently that special energy of flamenco, the ubiquitous stage smoke and dramatic lighting in the show seemed not only unnecessary, but a detraction. Amargo succeeded, I believe, in doing what the show promised—it gave viewers a sense of flamenco's traditional essence. Ironically, this glimpse made me yearn to see this dance performed in a setting that was not a stage, without any of the bells and whistles, where the drama was generated entirely by music and movement.

That said, the costumes—especially the women's dresses—were fantastic. Designed by an acclaimed Spanish designer, they were bold and sensuous and perfectly complimented a dance that is more about suggestion than revelation. The press of a thigh against long, form-fitting long skirt, or an elegant jacket slowly removed as the dancing heats up, does wonders amplify to the tension—perhaps between desire and restraint—that seems inherent in the music.

This show certainly lived up to my expectations and I was not the only one who thought so. When the lights came back on and the packed audience shuffled and shifted in preparation to leave, I heard the woman next to me: "Bailor sensacional… bailor sensacional…" she said, again and again, shaking her head in wonder.
Rafael Amargo and Company in Tiempo Muerto

Rafael Amargo and Company in Tiempo Muerto

Photo © & courtesy of Jesús Vallinas

Rafael Amargo and Company in Tiempo Muerto

Rafael Amargo and Company in Tiempo Muerto

Photo © & courtesy of Jesús Vallinas

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