Jordan Levin

Dance review: Flamenco diva Sara Baras sets stage on fire with ‘Voces’

Flamenco dance icon Sara Baras in the "Las Carmenes," section of the troupe Flamenco Sara Baras’ presentation of "Voces, Suite Flamenca," at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami on Thursday, March 12, 2015.
Flamenco dance icon Sara Baras in the "Las Carmenes," section of the troupe Flamenco Sara Baras’ presentation of "Voces, Suite Flamenca," at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami on Thursday, March 12, 2015. EL Nuevo Herald

Flamenco Sara Baras’ work Voces, Suite Flamenca is meant as a tribute to six great bygone flamenco artists. But the real star of this piece, playing through Saturday at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall, is Baras herself, whose spectacular technique and riveting charisma in Voces show her to be a worthy candidate as one of flamenco’s all-time greats herself. Certainly the sold-out audience at Thursday night’s show, the sole offering on this year’s Flamenco Festival Miami, seemed to think so.

The show that surrounds her, however, doesn’t live up to its ambitious concept. Our sense of what made guitarists Paco de Lucia and Moraito, singers Camaron De La Isla and Enrique Morente, and dancers Antonio Gades and Carmen Amaya so extraordinary remains as vague as the indecipherably fuzzy recordings of their voices we periodically hear during Voces. Perhaps a hardcore flamenco scholar could tease out which part of the piece refers to what quality of each artist. But despite the illustrations of the six masters on flat panels that frame the stage, Voces might as well simply be a tribute to flamenco itself.

Whenever Baras is onstage — and in a number of other moments — that is just fine. She is joined by her flamboyant partner, Jose Serrano; six other dancers; and an excellent roster of two guitarists (one of whom, Keke Baldomero, is musical director and composer), two percussionists and three singers. The dancers are first-rate, but the group choreography is undistinguished. In a section that seems to evoke Carmen (Gades famously choreographed a version of the opera), the three women, in long red dresses, writhe with cliché sensuality, before two of the men join to ravish them.

Mostly, the ensemble serves to frame and present Baras, who is the white-hot center of this flamenco universe. She combines ferociously sharp, powerful rhythmic footwork, sculptural clarity of line, and a singularly luscious, flowing quality in her arms and torso. Flamenco dancers almost always keep a tension in their movements — it’s part of the genre’s excitement. Baras combines exquisite control with spontaneity; energy seems to stream continuously through her spine and arms, but it never dilutes the clarity and intensity of her dancing.

In one sequence, she arches in a flowing white sleeveless dress, arms undulating around her, leading her six dancers in an exuberant parade. In another austerely riveting section she is surrounded by mirrors; wearing black turtleneck and pants, she crouches slowly, arms circling, and seems to hover — before lowering into a shimmering explosion of exquisitely calibrated heel work. In the finale, she wears a gorgeous jade-colored dress of layered fringe and spins herself into an incandescent green whirlwind, bare chest and arms glowing above, striding to the front of the stage to receive the audience’s cheers. (The costumes are by Torres-Cosano, and the richly dramatic lighting by Oscar Gomez de los Reyes.)

The muscular, curly maned Serrano is a fiery performer, looser and less laser-intense than Baras, though not as powerful or charismatic. He was terrific in a long solo; and he adds a natural sensuality and playful tension to their duets. But Voces speaks most eloquently when Baras is onstage.

If you go

What: Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras in ‘Voces.’

When: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Knight Concert Hall, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Tickets: $35 to $95; 305-949-6722 or arshtcenter.org.

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