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Spirit of flamenco alive and stomping

Even Compañía Juan Ogalla's musicians got into the action early in a night of blazing steps.

August 20, 2007|Jennifer Fisher | Special to The Times

You usually have to wait for the encore of a flamenco concert to see the musicians dance -- it's a tradition that never fails to delight. But Friday night, the Compañía Juan Ogalla's musicians jumped up to embody the rhythms midconcert, drumming up a lot of popular support.

It was an untraditional segment in "Las Cosas de Cai" (Things From Cádiz), the last program of the Irvine Barclay Theater's vibrant flamenco festival, featuring singers Inmaculada Rivero, Moi de Morón and Emilio Florido and guitarists Rafael Rodríguez and Eugenio Iglesias. With a single naked bulb hanging overhead, they all sat around a table, keeping time with tapping fists and singing the spirit into one another.

Somehow, seeing the musicians moving without refined virtuosity but with the seriously playful flamenco spirit made the life force of the form all the more evident. Elsewhere, technical feats enhanced the various moods, of course, as dance merged with music.

Ogalla himself (brother of the superb Pilar Ogalla, who appeared with Andrés Peña last week), has an almost machine-like command of complex footwork. With his wife, the slinky Manuela Ríos, he established his stiletto style early on as they glowered at each other from separate spotlights that created shadows from overhead.

In his rambling solos, a seguirilla, "Casa Abuelo," and a soleá de Cádiz, "Mi Calle," Ogalla's stop-start aesthetic included stately bullfighter lunges, slowly rising curved arms and circling hand gestures that were often tossed off as if scattered.

Ríos had a tamer style, light and vertical, seen at length in her "Tango de los tientos." In this solo, the three singers seemed to overlap and go their own ways, like troubling voices in her head.

Ogalla's lightning-bolt footwork sequences were more formidable and often shook his whole leg, while his torso stayed above it all or drooped with effort. At times, it seemed his upper body wanted to retire while his feet kept opening for business -- in fact, started new businesses, with preternatural speed. Only a minor matter of style interfered with the picture: A mop of stringy hair obscured rather than framed his face.

When it came to seeing the inner light and force of a flamenco presence, nothing could top guest artist Milagros Menjíbar. She is reportedly known as the "queen of the bata de cola" (a long ruffled train), and there was no doubt why from her single solo ("Alegrías"). Her gloriously ample body poured into perfectly curved shapes; her sashays, glides and supremely elegant pauses were suffused with a sense of supreme command.

Yet it was an imperiousness tamed by the warmth of illumination. She was radiant, she knew it, and she shared it with the blazing assertion that beauty and brightness still exist. That's the kind of moment it feels good to experience, even if only for a theatrical instant.

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