We are much unlike the ballet as far as performances go,” forewarned a company musician in his introduction to last Saturday night’s performance by Carolina Lugo’s & Carole Acuna’s Ballet Flamenco at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. He requested that the crowd assume an active role in the performance by shouting “¡Ole!” and clapping along to the five-piece string, percussion and keyboard ensemble.
The intended purpose of this “¡Ole!” changed, however, as the night progressed, the performers utilizing the term to various ends.
There was “¡Ole!” when the mandolin player took an impromptu fifteen minute solo. “¡Ole!” when a confused dancer or two exited stage left rather than stage right. And the occasional, knowing “¡Ole!” when it became clear that there had been a grandiose flub in the choreography. Thus “¡Ole!” became “Oops!”
In a perfect world, these mishaps would add up to a sort of street-show colorfulness, a display of ensemble straight out of “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.” Instead, the performance stumbled about stiffly, proving to be an off-night for three momentarily clumsy giants of the flamenco world.
Carolina Lugo and Carole Acuna are a dynamic mother/daughter duo. Lugo has decades of professional Spanish dance behind her, a gift which she has quite obviously passed on to her daughter, Acuna, who moves with a fluidity and attitude that at times overpowers her mother. When the show opened to the duo moving slowly upstage, castanets in hand, all elongated torso and wrist flourish, the audience could nearly feel the “¡Ole!” bubbling up.
And then the glitches began and the true meaning of the exclamation became clear.
For one, the dancers more than occasionally forgot and forwent the steps before them in the routine, often times glancing feverishly at others to regain their footing. Even Lugo appeared lost in the night’s choreography, fragmenting movements that, under other circumstances, should have been lusciously accentuated. The performance clearly lacked the sensuality and assuredness that the dancer has so often been praised for; the aging powerhouse’s delivery was bewildered, even.
Unfortunately for the rest of the ensemble, the best bits of choreography were also the fastest, and were left primarily to the show’s three leads. And while the slower bits limped along in their wake, this seemed a necessary dulling down, purposefully crafted to accommodate the abilities (or inabilities) of the ensemble.
Lest we forget the third giant of the evening, guest star Antonio Arrebola, fresh out of Spain. His ease onstage, creative arc and wry and lively approach to traditional flamenco effectively made him the performer of the night, easily overshadowing the rest of the cast. The duet in which he danced with and around the company’s songstress — a riveting singer with a vast, emotionally charged vibrato pallet — was the highlight of the evening.
It should also be noted that the ballet aspect of this ballet flamenco was nearly absent, with the exception of an arabesque or two in the beginning and a few minutes of solo dancing by Acuna at the end — arguably her most alluring performance of the night.
There is always the possibility that the night’s performance was an uncharacteristically rough one, for it seems that the propensity for quality flamenco was present in the bunch. Let us hope that in future performances, the award-winning company will reclaim “¡Ole!” for its proper use.