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Flamenco fest goes out in a blaze of footwork

August 18, 2003|Jennifer Fisher | Special to The Times

The New World Flamenco Festival came to a blazing conclusion at the Irvine Barclay Theatre over the weekend with what amounted to a mini-festival of footwork by the Madrid-based Compania Antonio Canales. In a multipart program titled, simply, "Bailaor" ("Dancer"), Southern California finally got a look at the renowned Antonio Canales, an innovator and charismatic presence in flamenco since the 1980s.

From the start of the intermission-free, hour and 45-minute program Friday night, it was clear that star power, as well as zippy zapateado (footwork), would play a strong role.

At age 42, Canales is a menacingly handsome, solid presence, fond of fixing the audience with eyes that seem to smolder and twinkle at the same time, and then bursting into fusillades of footwork. His upper body played a minimal role, bringing to mind a kind of cool not usually found in more formal flamenco enunciations.

In "Seguiriya," an exciting opening duet with Juan de Juan, each dancer took turns brushing, tapping and pounding the floor in ways that recalled virtuoso drum solos, coming together at the end to exchange riffs and finish in tightly knit unison. As De Juan showed further in his "Alegrias" solo, he has a more knees-up, rebounding style, and he often finds inspiration as his arms drift upward. He tended to slip and slide into outbursts of footwork, almost slamming or "hitting," as Savion Glover calls his brand of tap. Slighter and lighter than Canales, with chiseled good looks, De Juan seemed like a young colt to Canales' seasoned thoroughbred.

Musical interludes took a backseat to dancing in "Bailaor," although the fine guitar of El Viejin (also listed as composer) and Dani de Moron, and the percussion of Joselito Carrasco, provided dynamic support. Strong vocal drama came from singers David de Moron ( and Joselito de Lebrija, the latter of whom was particularly powerful. The third dancer, Adela Campallo, became a kind of decorative footnote in that she couldn't match the indulgent force of her companions.

Canales' personal appeal included a smile that emerged playfully, as a kind of acknowledgment that he had impressed the audience. His outstretched arms seemed to ask for an embrace and applause simultaneously, after trilling one heel, then one toe, for instance, then alternating feet and continuing to flutter percussively with the speed of a hummingbird's heart. A wood dance floor and microphones at a favored downstage spot kept the sound of intricate patterns clear.

Although the program culminated in an oddly underbaked finale, the memory of complex clatter, delicate tapping and simmering personalities was already set in mind, adding to the scope of festival director Yaelisa's increasingly impressive flamenco gathering.

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