Puerto Flamenco

By Kelly Carmichael

Date / Venue:  Thursday November 21st, Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland

Puerto Flamenco are a company from Seville offering a contemporary but authentic flamenco tradition. Performing only twice in New Zealand on this tour, they delivered 2 hours of incredible energy that left audiences stomping their feet and demanding an encore. On a bare stage the five-strong group gave an emotionally intense, proud and surprisingly intimate performance capturing the duende, or soul, of flamenco. With only the most minimal of accompaniments, Puerto Flamenco served up the passion and unmistakable patterns and tones that mark the genre straight to the audience.

Flamenco is music of the street. Originating in Andalucia, Southern Spain, from a mixture of Romani and local folk traditions it conveys all of the sensation and hardship of life in the raw. In a beautiful paradox, the complex rhythms of flamenco are created with very basic components - guitar, voice, a wooden box for percussion and the sounds of feet and hands against skin or floor. In a jaded world, flamenco offers an integrity and authenticity that no amount of auto tune or twerking will ever match. It's staggering how audacious simplicity can be.

Danced with a proud and upright bearing flamenco conveys emotion and strength, occasionally with a touch of melancholy, but always with attitude. Like another great art form that grew from the street, flamenco trades in the good-natured sparring that characterises old school hip-hop. The group urge and encourage each other, responding to the rhythm issued by the dancer and waiting to take the floor and issue a retort of their own. Flamenco has a posturing and flamboyance characteristic of street sparring, or a Paris catwalk, combined with a super-focused and complete absorption in the dance. It is not so much a presentation of dance, but an unfolding of emotion with the complicity and connection of the audience.

The two dancers the Puerto Flamenco company brought to New Zealand gave breathtaking performances of sensual energy combined with rapid footwork. A female dancer, body tightly held and back arched in the traditional flamenco way, brought grace and fire to the stage with the expressive use of her arms and rhythmic stamping of her feet. She danced with a beautiful fringed mantón, or shawl, which seemed to take on a personality of its own as it whipped around as a weapon one minute then wrapped softly around the dancer's waist the next. The only dancer on stage, her body seemed to give off such shape and rhythm that it filled the space. The second half opened with an extraordinary male dancer who fired out clean, precise footwork with absolute precision. Jack hammering his heels into the wooden floor he created such a wild rhythm that the audience was swept into his spell. At one point, the volatile energy of his performance was distilled into the vibration of a single leg. Completely seduced, the crowd leant forward listening for the final tap of his foot, like junkies for a fix.

After a standing ovation and the audience noisily demanding an encore, the five performers reemerged. Feeling much like an impromptu jam or the flamenco of the streets, the multi-talented Puerto Flamenco company delivered an informal performance swapping roles and dealing out the sass and earthy vitality that makes flamenco an outstanding night out. With the renowned guitarist Paco Pena due to perform his own brand of flamenco in NZ next April, tickets to his show should be high on anyone's Christmas list.