When's the last time you left a live performance in a soppy, wet mess of tears?
I did last Saturday night at the Newmark Theatre, where the Northwest International Flamenco Festival offered the Portland debut of Maria Bermudez and Sonidos Gitanos' Streets of Flamenco—the most virtuosic, sexy and ebullient live performance seen in Portland all year.
So, what is Streets of Flamenco? On paper, not much: A set of 10 tunes performed by flamenco specialist singers, players and dancers on a bare stage. There are no characters or story, and no attempt to water down or Disney-fy this powerful traditional art form (see Lord of the Dance.)
There are also, in an entirely Spanish-language performance, no translations, program notes or supertitles provided. In the opera world, that would be a bold and daring move, and a potentially audience-alienating one. But because of the fire-hot commitment each member of this exceptional seven-member cast brings to Streets—and the uncommonly diverse audience the performance attracted—the passion, humanity and ecstasy of flamenco shines through every stomp and swishing skirt, each sobbing guitar or vocal riff.
Dancer Rafael Campallo, in the breakout performance of his young career, provides much of the show's spark. On the verge of major international recognition, the lean, dark-featured and charismatic Campallo was deeply impressive, whether shuttling his feet in flat-out virtuosic hoofing to rival Savion Glover or dangerously wielding his jacket like a toreador. As Campallo executes another daredevil footwork combination, sweat whipping off his forehead, he stops himself short, adjusts his jacket and stares down the audience as if to say: "Yeah, I just went there!" And he did.
Sonidos Gitanos founder Maria Bermudez offers her own elegant, more restrained movement, with liquid wrists and surprisingly popular twists (did she just do the cabbage patch and the snake?) Bermudez shows some sexual flair of her own, as when she lifts her skirts suggestively and pulls them tight between her legs with a coolly amused smile.
The rest of the cast—including throbbing vocals from Ana de los Reyes and playful antics from guitarist Niño Jero—could hardly be better, and as they danced offstage in a rousing chorus-line finale, the exuberant song-dance joy of life vibrated more powerfully through the Newmark than most other performances had in quite some time. .