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María Pagés Compañía

March 28, 2013

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Autorretrato

Reviewed March 27, 2013

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

María Pagés, Photograph by Victoria Hidalgo

María Pagés
Photograph by Victoria Hidalgo

I first experienced flamenco in Franco’s Spain, wandering recklessly through the tiny cobblestoned roads behind Madrid’s Plaza Major, eventually finding myself in a little taverna, where I tasted the sangria and the tapas at a rough-hewn table and watched in awe as reveling gitanos took up their guitars and the gitanas leapt onto the tables to dance. No fancy dress. No cover charge. Just regular gypsies, their blood run through with the rhythm of their ancestors, expressing their love, their despair and their hope in spontaneous gesture.

I’ve never forgotten it. Somehow the bold rhythm, the fearless performance, the audacity and, yes, the vulnerability of traditional flamenco is not something you “watch,” but rather something you absorb.

It changes you.

María Pagés is that kind of flamenco. The art of it. The heart of it. Born in Seville, Spain, Pagés has taken the conventions of the dance and explored its evolutionary language. Her company, which came to Ottawa for a one-night-only, standing-ovation performance this week, has been showing off its unique style on stages around the world for more than 20 years.

Pagés conceived her 80-minute show, Autorretrato, which means self-portrait, after meeting ballet great Mikhail Baryshnikov in Madrid in 2006. He invited her to dance in New York, she analyzed herself as a dancer and she eventually created this work. Using mirrors and frames, and accompanied by her two flamenco guitarists, violinist, percussionist and two singers, Pagés presents her journey into self-knowledge, framed by the company’s seven dancers.

Pagés herself towers above the other performers – a commanding presence who takes us into the core of flamenco as she understands it. She is the dance – the kind of dance that makes the Earth turn. The body curls, finger by finger, the hips seduce, the frills of the skirt entice. The instruments and the singers keep the rhythm strong. The feet are the music. The hands are the speech.

The four male dancers strut their cleverness, the three women respond with equal talent — always in harmony, well practised and connected to the audience.

See Pagés perform to know flamenco.

In her own words, “Dance is the only means I have found to get to know myself. We have never lost sight of each other, we are as one.” In the words of the poet José Saramago, “Neither the air nor the earth are the same after María Pagés has danced.”

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From → Folk, Spectacle

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