That the Ballet Nacional de España’s Sorolla is so brightly entertaining and engaging is an achievement in itself, since the idea of an evening-length collection of Spanish folkloric dances is a potentially tedious one. But Sorolla, which opened Thursday evening at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House, also succeeds as a powerful statement of cultural pride — and of the prowess and charisma of Spain’s national dance company. It’s a gorgeous zinger of a show. This is the U.S. debut of Sorolla, which runs through Sunday afternoon.
The piece is based on “Vision of Spain,” renowned Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla’s famous 1911 series of paintings of Spanish regional culture. Sorolla opens with a female dancer in a flowing white dress, drawing enormous, billowing white fabric from a giant gold picture frame at the back of the stage — a metaphor for the paintings’ emergence. There is a way in which Sorolla seems like a defiant response to Spain’s brutal, years-long economic crisis — a statement of joyful cultural identity.
Visually, the paintings are evoked primarily in Nicolas Vaudelet’s gorgeously detailed and colorful costumes, while scenographer Vincent Lemaire’s drifting, soft-focus projections and Felipe Ramos and Gines Caballero’s lighting create a dreamlike atmosphere. The work’s greatest shortcoming is Juan Jose Colomer’s swoony, heavily orchestrated score, which subsumes any differences in rhythm or melody into a kind of folklore fantasia. The few segments with live musicians come as a gutsy relief.
Happily, sentimentality is dispelled by the vigorous dancing and energetic performances, which practically burst off the stage. There are four choreographers: company director Antonio Najarro, who conceived the project; and Arantxa Carmona, Miguel Fuente and Manuel Linañ.
Some sections showcase large groups in intricate patterns, like “La Romeria/Galicia,” with its skipping, crisply clattering heel and toe rhythms and whooping dancers, or the bold, exuberant “La Jota/Aragon,” for which both men and women leap to land in triumphant poses. There are common elements in many dances: the small, rapid, skipping steps; the arms held overhead in a wide u-curve; castanets played in crisp rhythmic counterpoint; men stamping out rhythms; women demurely tilting side to side. The dancers are marvelous: sharply detailed and precise without being stiff, filled with energy as individuals and in perfectly unified group sections.
Other segments leap off imaginatively from the paintings, some more successfully than others. Two female solos are generically graceful. But in “El Encierro/Andalucia,” based on a painting of a cattle roundup, Francisco Velasco and Mariano Bernal, in chaps and wide-brimmed hats, do a fierce, elegant flamenco dance as they “round up” wooden chairs. For “La Pesca del Atun/Huelva” the two men partner Esther Jurado and Maria Fernandez, who become sensually, sculpturally writhing fish in long-tailed silver bata de cola dresses. In “Los Nazarenos/Sevilla,” women in the black robes and bizarre tall, pointed hoods of religious penitents create stark architectural patterns.
The climax is “El Baile/Sevilla,” based on the most famous painting in the series, a gorgeous portrait of flamenco dancers. Led by the ferocious and queenly Jurado, the dancers fill the stage with swirling color and sensuality, at first lighter and more playful, then in fierce phalanxes of slashing limbs, whirling turns and driving rhythm — a proud, wild and supremely vital expression of life.
If you go
What: Ballet Nacional de España in ‘Sorolla.’
When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Ziff Ballet Opera House, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.
Info: $25 to $90, arshtcenter.org or 305-949-6722.