Whether showing off or baring their souls, flamenco dancers are usually soloists. Confining eight of them within a border, a taped-out area on the floor, has the flavor of a social experiment. How will they share the stage?
This is the concept of “Fronteras”, which Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana premiered this Tuesday at the Joyce Theater. It is not necessary to read the note of the program to understand that the choreographers, the invited artists José Maldonado and Karen Lugo, are against the imposition of social and artistic borders, and want to transcend them. But the limits they have imposed on themselves and their co-stars are fruitful. This is an extraordinarily deft balance between the individual and the group in flamenco, and solid entertainment to boot.
In some ways, “Fronteras” is a standard flamenco show, with standard strong points, especially an original score by José Luis de la Paz, who performs live with fellow guitarist Calvin Hazen and the excellent singers Francisco Orozco and El Trini de la Paz. Isla. But the premise—no dancer ever leaves the stage—forces interesting choices. For a brief moment, the dancers divide into opposing groups, but soon the show takes on the conventional form of a series of solos or special turns.
Or almost conventional. Each dancer has an identifying pillar from the trunk of traditional flamenco elements (a fan, a fringed shawl, a cane) and a different style or form of flamenco singing (jota, granaína) through which to express their personality. Maldonado has a scarf that tugs between his teeth and thighs in an engagingly comical-sexy way. Lugo wields a long-tailed bata de cola skirt with punk energy, rocking her body as much as she does the dress.
But within this conventional setup there are some unusual features. One is that Maldonado and Lugo’s shifts come in the middle. They are not the stars. There are also no stars or weak links. All eight dancers are remarkably alike, each drawing attention in a distinctive way. No one burns a hole in the show. Nobody lets it sink.
Continuity also comes from presumption. During each solo, the other dancers, trapped onstage, periodically repeat or expand on the soloist’s movements in artful and inventive group choreography. Often, they do so in a comical spirit, taunting Emilio Ochando and his castanets before he surprises us with his footwork and spins as fast as his fingers, or making cartoon noises when the dashing Adrián Domínguez drops his hat.
The comedy, while not laugh-out-loud, keeps the tone light and unassuming, though Maldonado and Lugo also manage to make some serious points. After the solos, the dancers begin mixing, you-chocolate-with-my-peanut-butter-style, artfully combining hat and tambourine, scarf and cane. As they swap clothes, Ochando ends up wearing Lugo’s skirt, crossing gender lines.
This mixing and swapping works so well that it’s unnerving when the production veers into a glow-in-the-dark section in which the dancers arrange their objects into a smiley face. It feels like an excerpt from a different show, perhaps a preview of the Momix show coming to the Joyce next month.
But then, satisfyingly if predictably, the performers put down their props and raise the ribbon, ending with a dance party, everyone taking turns supporting and celebrating everyone else. This is how most flamenco shows end. “Frontiers” refreshes the meaning.
Live Flamenco Carlota Santana
Through Sunday at the Joyce Theater; joyce.org.