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Dance / WEEKEND REVIEWS

Benitez Troupe's Effort Less Than Sound

November 11, 1996|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, New Mexico's Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco presented a doubly problematic program of Spanish music and dance over the weekend at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater.

In an nine-part traditional cuadro flamenco with choreography mostly by Antonio Granjero, the sound system not only made guitar and vocal tone gratingly shrill, it virtually obliterated the dancers' heel work. Every amplified hand-clap by the non-dancing personnel seated upstage resonated with double the force of any footfall at the front of the stage, so the dancers' rhythmic acuity could be appreciated only sporadically. Granjero himself danced without accompaniment during portions of his show-stopping solo, proving notably gutsy, buoyant--and the creator of wondrously fast and intricate percussion patterns.

Under the circumstances, Benitez's own Solea could well have been danced in ballet slippers, but she commanded attention with statuesque poses, molten transitions and flamboyant manipulation of her enormous fringed shawl. Company music director Jose Valle Fajardo Chuscales and Juan Requena contributed skillful guitar playing, with singing responsibilities shared by Jesus Montoya and Immaculada Ortega--the last named a formidably intense performer whether vocally supporting Granjero's solo or dancing her own.

Danced to a recording by the Santa Fe Chamber Orchestra, Benitez's feminist reinterpretation of the Gypsy music-drama "El Amor Brujo" offered resourceful, atmospheric scenery and lighting by Lynn Osborne and Todd Elmer, plus a rare chance to hear the original 1915 edition of one of Manuel de Falla's most popular scores. Unfortunately, Benitez's choreography remained glumly prosaic, never exploiting opportunities for sustained emotion or technical display. Moreover, her performance in what should have been a 35-minute dancing-acting tour de force stayed clenched and dutiful on Friday, always lacking the scale of expression defined in the music.

Rafael Martos had the sleek glamour and self-assurance needed for the lover-betrayer (very much alive in this version), and he strongly conveyed the power shift at the end without much help from Benitez. A miscast Granjero gamely danced the balletic will-o'-the-wisp solo. Playing Gypsy women, Adriana Maresma-Fois, Estefania Ramirez and Ortega swirled shawls adroitly in a none-too-fiery "Ritual Fire Dance."

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