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Dance review: New World Flamenco Festival presents 'Semana Flamenka' at the Irvine Barclay Theatre

September 25, 2011 |  3:00 pm


How much sizzle is too much sizzle?  That was the question Friday night, when too many soloists spoiled the flamencan broth at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.  Cooked up by Yaelisa, co-founder and artistic director of the New World Flamenco Festival, this ninth edition, “Semana Flamenka,” offered three slightly different programs over the weekend, with performances by 14 local, national and international dancers and musicians ranging from simmering to scorching. 

Sure, there was plenty to savor in an evening of mini-volcanic eruptions, but at 2 1/2 hours, the show lacked balance (four female dancers; two males), pacing (solo upon solo upon solo), and, well, a bit of flamenco fashion cred.  Suits and ties for men are not uncommon, but Manuel de la Cruz, sporting a white button-down shirt and ill-fitting gray jacket and pants, looked weirdly Vegassy, accentuated by turquoise shoes and matching skinny tie. His whipping turns, angled jumps and blazing footwork, however, made up for the sartorial misstep.

Injecting high drama into a sublimely sculpted solo, Yaelisa, clad in a black satin gown (think gothic Gypsy), hasn’t lost any of her back-bending, wrist-flicking firepower. Responding to Jesús Montoya’s and José Cortés’ heart-wrenching vocals, Yaelisa created a kind of footwork fugue, her quicksilver rhythms overlapping their plaintive croonings in something Bach would have admired.

 Maria Bermudez also shredded the stage with her scherzo skitterings, quirky kicks and dipping turns, adding exotica with filigreed fingers and spidery arms. Enhanced by Kina Mendez’s and Antonio de Jerez’s raspy-throated singing, Bermudez exuded unadulterated joy in movement as she seized the space.

A much-needed testosterone quotient was amped up by Oscar Valero, who in full-throttle attack mode executed dazzling jumps one moment, Petrouchka-like hip-swiveling the next, throwing in a dollop of body quaking before making a spectacular machine gun heel-toe exit. In an extended solo that had more false endings than a Beethoven symphony, Leilah Broukhim appeared possessed, her wildly swinging arms and bobbing head akin to a pinball machine in full tilt. It would have been fascinating to see Valero and Broukhim face off; indeed, any duet would have been welcomed.

Completing the concert:  Nelida Tirado danced a bullish solo; and guitarists Jason McGuire, Pedro Cortés, Ricardo Marlow and Chuscales provided stellar accompaniment throughout.  And while there was no dearth of passion on the program, it was found, alas, only in spurts. In other words: duende (soul) interruptus.

— Victoria Looseleaf

"Semana Flamenka" repeats at Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine, 6 p.m. Sunday. $35-$100.

Photo: Maria Bermudez, left, Oscar Valero and Yaelisa in the Fin de Fiesta Semana Flamenka / New World Flamenco Festival. Credit: Jack Hartin.