As a resident of New Mexico for 20 years, where the flamenco tradition is alive and well, I have been fortunate to see a good deal of the Spanish art form, and even a few of its best practitioners.
But never have I seen the likes of Rocio Molina, the headliner at this year's Ringling International Arts Festival. Molina is a performer worthy of a word I have banned from my dance critic's vocabulary — unique. Hers is flamenco on steroids, cut lose from traditional boundaries and infused with new life, while still retaining its authenticity and power.
Molina, who won her country's National Prize for Dance in 2010 at the age of 26, has impeccable technique and a huge presence for someone not much over five feet tall. The contradiction between her youthful vivacity and her mature technical ability coincides nicely with a juxtaposition of the serious, even strident, nature of traditional flamenco delivery and her personal aura, which is joyful, self-amused and supremely confident.
A full 20 minutes before show time, as a chatty audience filtered into the house, Molina was already posed on stage with her back to the audience, a half-full wine glass in her outstretched right hand, a string attached to a bottle on the floor in her left. Over minutes she shifted positions, sagging slowly as if her own weight were too much to bear or abruptly breaking like a popping B-boy; I was won over before she ever took a step.
Once she did, Molina's compact yet curvy body was alive, from her fluidly sinuous fingertips to her impossibly rapid fire staccato feet. Her renversés — the traditional turns in place with the back arched and the head left behind to spot — were executed so quickly you wondered if you had imagined them.
But what I loved were the contemporary aberrations that were hers alone, yet so seamlessly integrated you never would have guessed they weren't part of the classical tradition. There were flashes of modern dance, break dance, even — when she put bells on her head and tipped her head toward each shoulder — classical Indian Bharatanatyam. The rhythmic contrasts were detailed yet blended, so nothing seemed out of context or extraneously tacked on.
Molina owns the stage; her sense of authority and command are absolute. At one point her feet strike the floor around a carefully placed wine goblet with such force the glass levitates — until she crushes it with a final stomp. Then she saunters away with a casual touch to her neck, as if she's just killed a cockroach.
These little soigné touches are sprinkled throughout — a twiddle of the braid that lies down her back; a leisurely onstage change of her shoes; the amusing placement of a tambourine on her head at a slant, like a natty pillbox hat — and give humor to an art that takes itself desperately seriously.
The three onstage three musicians — José Ángel Carmona, who primarily sings; Eduardo Trassierra, on guitar; and José Manuel Ramos, who provides hand claps, foot stomps, and other percussion on the cajón (box) or by striking two wine bottles together — seem just as intrigued by this temptress as we are.
At an hour and a half, this extraordinary "recital" (as Molina has called it) was a little long — not because it lost you, but more in the sense of too much of a good thing. As she concluded — not with the bang you'd come to expect, but with some vogue-ing poses from the pre-performance segment — I felt a little like you do when you've overindulged in Thanksgiving dinner.
But oh what a repast it was.
"DANZAORA Y VINÁTICA," ROCIO MOLINA. Reviewed Oct. 10. No additional performances.