feeling of flamenco: Flamenco Vivas Carlota Santana.
by the Horns
By Mae G. Banner
Vivo, Mano a Mano (The Bullfighter’s Ballet)
Egg, Nov. 15
the bullfighter, the flamenco dancer surrenders completely
to the moment. The proud stance, arched back, and swiveling
turns of the torero or the dancer serve to efface all sense
of self. There is only pure rhythm—pure power.
In Mano a Mano, a knife-edged narrative ballet on the
life of the legendary Manolete, the intensity of the bullfighter
merges with the soul of flamenco. The two forms flow together
like molten metal in this elemental dance performed Saturday
(Nov. 15) at the Egg by Carlota Santana’s nine-member Flamenco
The bullfighter’s story is the perfect vehicle for Santana’s
project, which is to recast traditional flamenco dancing,
infusing it with strains of modern dance, pan-Latin vernacular,
and jazz. Moreover, she intends her “flamenco nuevo” dances
to tell a story in contrast to “flamenco puro,” in which the
dance itself is the only story.
Principal dancer Antonio Hidalgo choreographed Mano a Mano
and dances the role of Manolete, the Cordoban hero who enraptured
audiences in his brief, stellar career. On the cusp of his
retirement at age 31, Manolete accepted a challenge from the
brash young torero, Luis Miguel Dominguin. He killed his bull
cleanly, but died in the ring at the moment of truth.
With the aid of minimal voice-over narration by Samuel Hazo
(who sounds like Leonard Nimoy) and the onstage music of guitarists
Calvin Hazen and Fermin Querol, singer Jose Salinas, and flutist
Terence Butler, the dancers enact Manolete’s story in a series
of exciting scenes that mirror the passes of a bullfight.
Each scene is an encounter between friends, lovers, or combatants.
Each is danced with skill, daring, sensuality, and breathtaking
control. A storm of heel-work, contrapuntal clapping, corruscating
singing, swirling capes or shawls, and shouts of “ole!” keep
the excitement at an almost unbearable level. We see climax
after climax and we remain on the edge of our seats, watching
for the next dramatic turn.
Flamenco, originally a solo form that expresses deep personal
emotion, here serves to illuminate a range of relationships.
In an early scene, Hidalgo as the young Manolete learns by
repeating the moves of his mentor, Jose Flores Camara. Rodrigo
Alonso dances the mentor’s role with delight in his pupil’s
growing skill. A simple hand on Hidalgo’s shoulder conveys
his pride and their brotherhood.
Pilar Andujar, striking in red, dances Antonita Branchalo,
Manolete’s lover and wife, with seething intensity. Her hips
swivel beyond flamenco’s boundaries to the edge of vulgarity,
but this is countered by her arms, which slice the air like
scimitars. In a brilliant solo, she stalks the stage, elongates
her arched back, and whips around in passes like those of
In a climactic duet, Andujar and Hidalgo face each other,
arms lifted and curved, articulated fingers representing the
bull’s horns. Face to face or back to back, they move together
like quicksilver, circling each other into darkness, then
reappearing under purple strokes of light for a bit of afterplay,
a climax beyond the climax.
Santana, who co-founded Flamenco Vivo in 1983, appears as
Manolete’s mother, plying her black-fringed shawl with masterful
efficiency. She dances in silence, slowly and deliberately,
her back to the audience, facing her fellow dancers as if
to show them how it’s done.
One hanging light with a green shade evokes the men’s tavern
where Dominguin, danced by the smoldering Fermin Calvo de
Mora, makes his challenge to Manolete. The challenger seems
to glide back and forth, inches above the floor, yet his heels
beat all the while. It’s a stunning move.
Tension builds from this scene to the next, as the two toreros
and their seconds prepare for the bullfight. While the bullfighters
don their beaded boleros, four women in black perform deep
wide-legged plies, already in mourning.
The toreros step forward, flourishing their brilliant satin
capes. The challenger dances with flair, the gold tassels
on his epaulets quivering. Manolete, in contrast, begins in
silence. He swivels one foot, testing the ground, turns, poses,
then steps into a spin. He drapes his red cape over his sword,
then lifts and lowers it slowly, maddeningly, drawing the
bull to him. In one motion, he kills and is killed.
Flamenco puro has no rival for depth of feeling. But Mano
a Mano focuses the ferocity of the tradition in a new,
highly theatrical direction that beckons audiences to follow.