For 18 years, in a variety of intimate theaters around Manhattan, the astonishing flamenco artist Soledad Barrio has been casting her spell. Surrounded by ululating singers, guitarists and powerful male solo dancers, she invites us into her fraught universe, shares her passion and pain and then sends us out in awe of her almost magical powers.
This week, her small ensemble plays the Joyce Theater — allowing for an increase in scale that’s a mixed blessing. The broad stage seems a cavern that the group struggles to fill.
The 550-seat house offers affordable access to the front row, which is where you want to be: Flamenco is an intimate art form. Even from an excellent spot in the middle of the theater, you might feel distanced from the fire that usually crackles between the performers and extends into the audience.
But they can, and do, really cut loose: stocky Alejandro Granados, who grapples with the challenges of being alive; leaner Antonio Jimenez, sly and intense; and of course the fierce diva herself, a woman who seems to challenge the world. Her sinuous fingers undulate, her back bends, her feet stamp out complex rhythms in counterpoint to her accompanists.
Barrio’s new “Oda al Amor,” or “Ode to Love,” seems a flirtation with death; a tall, draped figure (local dancer Jeanette Stoner) stalks our star. While it’s wonderful that New Yorkers will get to see these gifted Spanish performers during this too-short visit, hopefully they’ll return to a smaller house.