Flamenco, Egyptian Style: Ballet Flamenco La Rosa
At the Colony Theater, the world premier of Cleopatra y Cesar, an evening-length performance by Miami-based Ballet Flamenco La Rosa, opened up the 2011 Miami Dance Festival. Artistic director Ilisa Rosal has shown serious devotion to the art of flamenco — this year her company celebrates its 26th anniversary. For Cleopatra y Cesar, Rosal assembled a large group of accomplished flamenco dancers, including Leonor Leal, a sought-after soloist from Sevilla, who makes her American debut in this production. The original George Bernard Shaw play Cleopatra and Cesar, interpreted here by Ballet Flamenco La Rosa, is filled with romance, betrayal, military threats, and assassinations, the kinds of high-pitched emotional exchanges that destroy and rebuild families and nations. Shaw’s play offers perfect material for a night of flamenco, a dance style marked by emotional intensity. The plot revolves around Cesar’s arrival in ancient Egypt. He came as a conqueror, but while wondering through the desert, he encounters a young Cleopatra at the feet of a Sphinx and a passionate love affair develops between them. Cleopatra, who doesn’t realize who she has fallen for, has her own grand ambitions. She is vying with her 10-year old brother Ptolemy for rule over Egypt. Ballet Flamenco La Rosa’s Cleopatra y Cesar holds on to Shaw’s basic storyline as a structure for a series of dramatic exchanges, both sensual and confrontational. The original play provides a fertile source of imagery. Striking body poses inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics merge beautifully with classic flamenco, and notable moments from the original play, including the famous scene where Cleopatra is rolled inside a rug and smuggled out of captivity, give life and variation to the many dance sequences. Flamenco is not usually a forum for subtlety, but Leal rendered Cleopatra with both fire and grace. Her elegant arm work and impassioned carriage were believably royal, and a gorgeous and extensive wardrobe suited her character’s stature and sensuality perfectly. Tragically, a black Egyptian-styled wig obscured her face for the entire show. Although Leal was in a league all her own, the entire ensemble, including an unusual number of talented male dancers, was strong and solid. The surprise of the night was young Gino Cosculluela’s brief appearance as Cleopatra’s brother Ptolemy. Child performers are a rare sight in flamenco because of the maturity required to adequately deliver such a strong emotional tone. This little guy stole the spotlight with unwavering confidence and dignity as he engaged Cleopatra in a contest of posturing and temper tantrums. Music is as much a part of the flamenco tradition as movement, and the live music orchestrated for Cleopatra y Cesar by Jose Luis Rodriguez and Paco Fonta in collaboration with Rosal and the other musicians and performers, was one of the most developed aspects of the performance. Spanish guitar and vocals were complemented by Middle Eastern vocals and the sound of an oud, effectively evoking a desert mood. Unfortunately, the production was brought down by unsophisticated visual elements. The costumes for the male characters were a cheap imitation of luxe, and the props, including scrappy fabric stand-ins for rugs, were distracting. The narrative was marked by projected clip-art graphics of scenery – a sphinx, a lighthouse – that were also far beneath the quality of the dance and musical performances. Still, the choreography was complex, offering beautiful, moving images and precise passages of footwork that were well-integrated with the live music. For flamenco fans, there was plenty to enjoy, and when the show was over, the crowd rewarded Ballet Flamenco La Rosa with enthusiastic cheers.