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All stomp and style

Maria Franco, flamenco dancer-choreographer, tries too hard in a performance that is lacking a key ingredient: hot-blooded emotions.

August 13, 2007|Victoria Looseleaf | Special to The Times

Flamenco, thankfully, is not an ageist art form, with many of its finest dancers growing deeper as the years pass. But the sixth edition of the New World Flamenco Festival, titled "La Flor de la Vida (The Prime of Life)," which opened this past weekend at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, seemed more of a New Age offering -- glossy technique but little duende, soul.

At the eye of this unsettling storm was Maria Franco, born in 1977 and director-choreographer of the Cádiz, Spain-based Compañía Maria José Franco founded in 2005. The 90-minute intermission-free concert, "De Grana y Oro (Scarlet and Gold)," may have referred to Franco's final frock -- a heavy crimson velvet fringed gown that could have doubled as drapes at Versailles but was probably meant to invoke hot-blooded emotions and a wealth of style.

Yes, Franco can dance -- her fiery staccato footwork and filigreed hands are an awesome sight. But in trying too hard to show off -- her ill-conceived opening number, "Farruca," in skin-tight white pants and toreador jacket against a mirrored backdrop that made one feel sorry for the bull -- set the tone for a full-tilt, cold attack mode that never abated.

In "Tientos tangos," Franco showed up in an orange gown with a heavily feathered skirt (think: flamenco at the Flamingo). Dipping and spinning, the hip-swaying dancer exploded in a fusillade of stomps, skittering to the raspy vocalese of Carmen Grilo, whose disconcerting tremolos pierced the saucy mood.

Maneuvering a long train in "Alegrias," Franco was joined by two young female dancers (Asunción Armario and Oliva Cordero, who earlier did a lackluster number with canes), the smiley unison moves neither crisp nor engaging.

Franco's troupe also fell short in its accompaniment. Adding a violin (Sophia Victoria Quarenghi) that was more schmaltz than gypsy to routine drumming (Raul Dominguez) and a guitar duo (Paco Iglesias and Juan M. Moneo, the latter Franco's husband), as well as singers Luis Moneo, Juan José Amador and Grilo, gave the music a movie score sound, not authentic Spanish tang. In an interlude featuring Grilo and Iglesias, her keening, wobbly vocals were nearly too much to bear.

It was only during the encore that Franco seemed to shed her polished guard; certainly, the girls let things rip. In time, one hopes that this company will acquire depth to match the flash, and that the week's coming performances are already fully ripened.


New World Flamenco Festival

What: Compañía Andrés Peña y Pilar Ogalla

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday

Price: $33 to $43

Contact: (949) 854-4646 or


What: Compañía Juan Ogalla

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday

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