Thursday’s performance by the Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia, the Spanish troupe that is this year’s offering for the Flamenco Festival Miami, showed all the strengths and the weaknesses of this annual event — now in its sixth year at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
The first half of Metafora, the evening-length piece by Andalucia artistic director Ruben Olmo that runs through Sunday, is mostly traditional flamenco, performed with verve and integrity by 13 fine dancers. The second half is an attempt at a high-concept, contemporary vision of flamenco that succeeds only in being meandering and overwrought. The same has been true of the most of the attempts at modernizing flamenco that we’ve seen from other festival troupes.
After an ambitious first season that showcased some of the best and most groundbreaking singers, guitarists and dancers in flamenco, the festival for several years has presented a single dance company. Dance is the most accessible and popular part of flamenco, and the audience that filled the Sanford Ziff Opera House Thursday responded enthusiastically. But instead of the profound emotional power and transformative expression found in the best flamenco, Ballet Andalucia simply offered expert entertainment — and only in the first half.
Among the pleasures in Metafora’s first half is Cantiñas del Coral, a lush and buoyant alegrias choreographed by guest soloist Rocio Coral. The program calls it a tribute to the Sevillian school, from the capital of Andalucia, regarded as the birthplace and heartland of flamenco. The five women, wearing extravagantly long, ruffled, seafoam green bata de cola dresses, fill the stage with swirling, circling patterns — dancing with a welcome vigor and freedom.
Patricia Guerrero wonderfully exemplified these qualities leading the Coral group and in a solo called De los reyes. (Guerrero substituted in the solo for guest star Pastora Galvan, whom a company representative said returned to Spain for a family emergency.) Guerrero was terrific, a naturally charismatic dancer who moved easily from loose fluidity to fiery intensity, lively in her response to the five musicians onstage.
A dramatic romantic duet for black-clad Eduardo Leal and Marta Arias (taking Guerrero’s place) effectively used flowing movements and lifts unusual in flamenco. And a celebratory ending for men and women was lusty and joyful, the women leaning back from thrusting, swaying hips.
All that energy couldn’t bring the pretentious second half to life. Instead of live musicians, it used recorded music which sounded like a bad Spanish classical flavored movie soundtrack. It opened with Olmo in a mannered, melodramatic solo, rushing about the stage, opening his arms to the heavens, apparently invoking the spirit of flamenco. A folkloric dance section of hopping, bouncing steps felt misplaced amid sequences of rigid, grandiose patterns using the more formal shapes and style of Spanish classical dance. How all this was a metaphor for flamenco was not apparent.
The only choreographic interest came in an idiosyncratic solo by guest artist Rocio Molina, one of Spain’s most acclaimed young dancers. Kittenish and confident, Molina, in a cream-colored gown, used her exquisitely articulate hands and arms and virtuoso technique to simultaneously break down and satirize flamenco. Gesturing comically around her face, seeming to startle herself by sudden turns, she slowed and dissected typical flamenco movements and with exquisite clarity and stop-action rhythm, mocking herself and the form.
Molina’s solo was a tour de force — if an emotionally empty one. But at least it had a coherent idea and some compositional substance, unlike the rest of the second half of Metafora.