“I love flamenco,” Susan Noel said without hesitation when asked why she decided to come watch the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company. Noel, 65, an Evanston resident, was just one of the nearly sold-out crowd at Pick-Staiger for Monday night’s show. The show was a part of the Segovia Classical Guitar Series presented by Northwestern University and The Chicago Classical Guitar Society, which continues until May 4.
Paco Peña, who was born in Córdoba in 1942, began learning to play guitar from his brother when he was only six-years-old and became the world’s first professor of flamenco in 1985 at the Rotterdam Conservatory in the Netherlands.
According to Beth Delorit, a senior in the School of Music who was working at Pick-Staiger during the event, the show was one of the most popular of the year, the attendance so high that the concert hall had to make special seating for the extra guests. Fingers tapping, feet and knees bouncing, audience members spent the evening silently mimicking the sounds produced on stage.
Costume changes and different numbers of musicians onstage for each of the thirteen songs performed provided visual variation, and, for a set near the end of the performance, Peña and others used hammers and traditional castanets. Combining guitars, singing, handclapping and stomping, the musicians created music filled with emotion. And while dancers performed in front of the musicians, it in no way took away from the beauty and accomplishment of the music.
Paco Peña in particular demonstrated his talent while never drawing attention away from the other performers onstage. His first solo, the second song of the evening, was a tranquil piece and one that showcased years of practice and exhaustive mastery of technique. Throughout the show, Peña, though positioned in the center, focused on the dancers. Watching as they moved around the stage, adjusting when necessary, he obviously enjoyed witnessing their interpretation of the music he was creating.
The dancers, Angel Muñoz, Charo Espino and Ramón Martínez, commanded the stage, both when dancing together and solo. Feeding off the energy from the musicians, each dancer reached out to the audience, telling a new story for each song. Remaining faithful to the tradition of flamenco, performers danced passionately, using their hands, feet and facial expressions to express the sentiments of the song.
Martínez’s first solo drew laughter from the audience as he danced around stage in bright red shoes, showing his enjoyment of this art with pelvic thrusts and perfectly timed snaps and turns. He stopped at one point, looking down at his unbuttoned shirt and grinned as he tucked in his tie and re-buttoned the shirt, which triggered more laughter and applause. Espino’s espressive and dramatic dances proved to be just as enjoyable.
“You see them working together, two at a time, solos where you get a good sense of everybody’s individual style,” said Kate Mattson, a local flamenco teacher.
The audience stood to applaud as the group of eight bowed. But the company wasn’t done; in a delightful final act, they formed a semi-circle for informal, impulsive dancing as the guitarists played and every member shouted encouraging words, leaving the room filled with energy.
Kathleen Nichols from Chicago had seen Paco Peña’s company perform before and was again impressed with their showing. “It was an outstanding show,” she said. “They always just do a wonderful job.”
Paco Peña’s show was engaging, compelling and inspired, leaving people excited enough to forget, if only for two hours, that the temperature outside had dropped below zero.