Does traditional dance have a place on the contemporary stage? Nuevo Ballet Español rendered the debate irrelevant at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium last weekend, boldly opening the 2012-13 MDC Live Arts performance series. The company, whose work has moved through practically every style of dance, committed to pure flamenco for their latest evening-length performance. It was an expression of the traditional as a living, breathing history.
The name of the show, Cambio de Tercio, was borrowed from bullfighting. It indicates a change of phases within the formal structure of a fight. Angel Rojas, one of the company’s two artistic directors, described the show as a kind of cleansing for Nuevo Ballet Español — an opportunity to create space for new directions. This may sound like an intellectual exercise, but in fact the performance seemed to produce a profound realignment with the blood-pulse of Spanish culture. We saw that the past can be a source of vitality as rich as the burst of a groundbreaking idea.
Cambio de Tercio brought forth the soul of a people whose culture has seen an intense depth of experience. Shadows of passion, pride, and pain came through, as well as the line of gypsy inheritance, and male and female roles over the course of centuries. These expressions did not come from theatrics, but instead from an underlying authenticity. In Miami, a city filled with people who often point proudly to their own Spanish heritage, such a bow to tradition was particularly meaningful.
For contemporary artists, tradition is tricky territory. Flamenco, like any folkloric style, easily deadens when it falls into mere repetition of steps. The movement and music presented by Nuevo Ballet Español seemed fed by something genuine — particularly from the musicians who held the stage with as much presence as the stunning dancers. Rojas and his co-director Carlos Rodriguez, decided to bring the musical performers out from their usual place in the background. This may well be what made the experience so vivid. Two women, Rocio Bazan and Davinia Jaen, rooted the show with the power of their wailing voices. A touching duet between the violinist and a dancer was one of the most memorable images of the night.
Cambio de Tercio was visually impressive throughout, with finely-tuned staging, sparkling details, and costumes to die for. Choreographies were contributed by guest artists Rocia Molina, Manuel Liñan, and Rafael Campayo, innovators from Spain’s new flamenco generation. Three of the company’s four female dancers executed the choreography to perfection, with precise rhythms of their feet and castanets. A fourth dancer seemed to have taken cues from male, rather than female, postures, a distraction in an otherwise glorious performance. And directors Rojas and Rodriguez commanded the stage with their solos, even demanding quiet from the cheering audience with a wave of the hand so their detailed footwork could be heard.
The show came to a close with an improvisational exchange between the dancers and the musicians. The full company gathered under bright lights at the front of the stage, almost in the space of the audience, and a few musicians came forward to show their own modest, sometimes endearingly awkward, flamenco steps. On the flip side of a perfect performance are the honest imperfections of dance as an everyday thing. This small detail brought the whole show to life and reminded the audience that art, in any form, is above all a lived process. The performers’ joy and commitment was apparent, and the audience loved it.