In one of the odder attempts at an evening-length flamenco dance-theater piece (think fusion), "Al Cielo con Ella" (Toward Heaven With Her), under dancer-choreographer Abigail Caro's artistic direction, misfired Friday in the first of three weekend performances at Santa Monica's Morgan-Wixon Theatre. At times it seemed more like flamenco meets the Fillmore, with Jimi Hendrix-type electric guitar noodlings--albeit technically bright--emanating from the ax of Miroslav Tadic as he cranked out the late rocker's classic "The Wind Cries Mary."
What this had to do with the ostensible themes of the divine, the feminine and Spanish Holy Week (when images of Christ and the Virgin Mary are placed on floats and paraded through the streets), is a mystery. But that was Caro's intent: Unsuccessfully weaving Sufi and Hindu devotional poetry, along with Malleus Maleficarum ("The Witch Hammer") text--all uttered on tape--this disjointed opus was more patchwork than passion.
Not only were transitions jarring, with musicians entering and exiting both sides of the stage, but there were also few authentic connections between much of the music and dance in the 17-part program, however well-executed.
Caro, usually intriguing, made a trio for herself, Amanda Navar and Deborah Greenfield; where Martha Graham-like crouches dominated, drama didn't. When David Philipson accompanied them on bansuri, North Indian bamboo flute, the work ebbed into bizarro-land: These were forms without functions.
Happily, relief came with veteran flamenco dancer Oscar Nieto. Displaying quicksilver heelwork and slicing arm motions, he brought much-needed life to the stage in his own solo, as did a fiery Laila del Monte, dazzling with dipping turns in her choreographed piece. In addition, singer Antonio de Jerez and guitarists Adam del Monte and Antonio Triana (all accomplished) contributed to the ill-conceived evening, which was, alas, poorly lighted by Jack Newalu.