Review: Noche Flamenca brings an ancient story to life

Noche Flamenca’s rendition of the ancient Greek tragedy, Antigone, is many distinct parts that make up an excellent whole. It is dancing that stretches your imagination of how fast a person’s foot can move, drums that sync with every dancer’s precise stomp, solo electric guitar playing worthy of the best 80s hair-metal band and soft Spanish acoustic guitar to make you cry a little. There’s singing that is bellowing and gentle, moralistic and forgiving. It is the drama of a Spanish soap opera mixed with the humour inherent to any complicated family. It is a commentary on our current political situation flushed with populism and greed for power. There’s even a nice poke at Trump. It’s about race and gender. It’s flamenco and a little sprinkle of hip-hop. It’s beautiful colours and costumes, swaths of fabric flying across stage, bodies (living and dead) and masks and the tension between noise and silence. It is a celebration of the Spanish language and culture of dance, structured by the twisting, cruel world of an ancient Greek play. There is poetry appearing across a screen above the performance, quoting truths that are as deeply relevant today as they were thousands of years ago: “There is no happiness where there is no wisdom.” It’s about death and loss, guilt and responsibility, love and life.  

Noche Flamenca was formed in 1993 by Martin Santangelo and his wife Soledad Barrio, who performs as Antigone. The company tours worldwide to critical acclaim, and Santangelo is often credited with bringing purity and integrity to one of the world’s most mysterious art forms: flamenco. 

I happened to be sitting near Santangelo during the performance, and I often felt as drawn to his engagement with the piece (he shouted Olay! throughout and mouthed the words of each song) as to the performance itself. 

Most of the performance is sung and spoken in Spanish, which stretched my weak grasp on the language, but it didn’t matter at all. The dancing and music truly – all cliché aside – spoke for itself. At some points it was nice to close my eyes and focus on hearing only the dexterous playing of the acoustic guitar. Other times, I squinted to observe the flash of footwork. 

Although Sophocles wrote Antigone 2,500 year ago, the story is timeless. Two brothers die fighting each other for rule of their country. The king, stubborn and sick with power, decrees that one of the brothers, the traitor, be left without proper burial. Antigone, the grieving sister, buries her traitorous brother in secret. Her love and loss is stronger than a king’s commandment. Antigone represents the way women—to this day—are standing up against injustice. Think the recent Women’s March and the strong female leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement. She represents dissent from a system that does not rule fairly. She embraces love and family when faced with cruelty and greed. 

Each performer — singer, dancer, and musician alike — is given their well-deserved solo to show off their skills. But ultimately, it is the scenes when the many performers are creating art together (with sometimes as many as fifteen people on stage) that are the most powerful. Following flurries of dance, strumming guitars, pounding drums and heartfelt song there were brief and beautiful moment of silence before the applause erupted. I loved this performance.