Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras
Voces, Suite Flamenca
9 March 2015
Born in the Gypsy community in the impoverished Andalusia region of southern Spain more as self-expression than dance, flamenco has over the centuries become an inherent part of Spanish culture and the country’s most treasured cultural export.
The Kennedy Center’s festival “IBERIAN SUITE: global art remix” – a spectacular three-week-long showcase of the multicultural heritage of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking people – featured two flamenco programs that brought Spain’s most celebrated flamencas, Sara Baras and María Pagés, to the stage of the Eisenhower Theater to share their love and passion for the art of flamenco with Washington audiences.
Acclaimed worldwide for her incredible technique, especially her staggering, rapid-fire heelwork, Sara Baras is a flamenco diva in her own right. Her career has spanned over 20 years and taken her to perform on the stages of major theaters all over the world. She took her first steps as a dancer in the studio of her mother, Concha Baras, in her hometown of Cadíz at the tender age of eight, and began her professional performing career when she was just 18 years old. In 1998 she founded her own company, Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras, for which she has created and directed more than a dozen programs.
For its Kennedy Center’s debut, Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras presented Voces, Suite Flamenca, a 90-minute show conceived and choreographed by Baras as a tribute to the bygone flamenco greats – singers Camarón de la Isla and Enrique Morente, guitarists Paco de Lucía and Moraíto, and dancers Antonio Gades and Carmen Amaya – artists who not only enriched and elevated flamenco as an art form but also had an indispensable impact on Baras as an artist and a human being. During the show their portraits were displayed on the six white panels that framed the stage; and their recorded voices (the voces of the title) enlightened the audience (or at least the Spanish-speaking audience) with the wisdom and craft of flamenco.
The most dominant voice of this program, however, was that of Sara Baras herself. She was the brightest presence and undisputed centerpiece of this highly entertaining, even if somewhat bumpy, performance.
Tall and lean, the 43-year-old Baras still commands the stage with her captivating allure and phenomenal dancing skills. She has an erect, stately posture; bewitchingly beautiful, supple arms and eloquently nuanced wrists and fingers. But the most important talent in flamenco is the footwork and for her super-speedy and precisely-controlled heels Baras is celebrated the most.
Again and again, holding up her skirt to reveal her feet – those unique and perfect instruments of her art – Baras stomped the floor in her black-heeled shoes in a wildly-ecstatic percussive frenzy. Always keeping suspense and tension in her filigree of steps, she held the audience in awe with the slowly increasing drama of her footwork. She would start with a measured throb of drumming stomps and gradually amplify their velocity and intensity, all leading to a pulse-quickening, passionate thunder. The virtuosity of her dancing was astounding.
A former model, Baras knows a thing or two about fashion. Apart from the all-black attire she donned during her tautly-controlled and regal Farruca, a dark masculine precision-driven solo, during the evening she wore a slew of beautiful gowns, each of which accentuated the intricacies of her dancing in marvelous ways. The most memorable was the green fringed number in the finale. When Baras whirled her toned body in a series of tornado-like spins, it seemed as if the dress itself was part of the choreography as its shimmering layers created a mesmerizing cascade of whirlwind movements.
At times Baras was joined onstage by her husband, José Serrano, who was listed in the program as the company’s guest artist. Like Baras, the sturdy and imposing Serrano has loads of skill and charisma; yet the theatrical ardor and impassioned earnestness of his dancing often felt overheated and exaggerated. From time to time the excellent corps de ballet – three women and three men – took the spotlight for just enough time to give Baras a little breather or a moment to change her costume; but the ensemble choreography looked rather undistinguished, particularly Las Carmenes, an odd snippet of Carmen, presumably a nod to the great Antonio Gades.
But these small transgressions in the program didn’t bother the flamenco-adoring audience which filled the house to the brim and, in the course of the performance, frequently encouraged the artists and let their appreciation to be heard in their enthusiastic shouts of “Ole!”