Saturday, March 1, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Flamboyant flamenco, dancing the Cuban way

Special to The Seattle Times

Dance review

Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, Thursday night (program repeated last night and 8 p.m. tonight), Meany Theater, University of Washington, Seattle; $32 (206-543-4880 or

It's hard to go wrong with castanets, isn't it? The tiny, wooden, finger-driven percussion instruments somehow manage to be both mysterious and undeniably cool.

In the opening number of Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, an entire fleet of flamenco dancers, wearing long black skirts and red matador jackets, swarmed the stage, armed with clicking castanets and the clacking heels of their shoes.

Immediately, the audience moved to the edge of their seats.

The stage was simple: A blank wall towered at the back, changing colors with each new set of vibrant costumes, and accenting, with its sheer emptiness, the beauty of the dancers who entered from the wings across a raised platform.

The seven-piece live music ensemble covered the entire width of the stage and created rhythms both seductive and sprightly.

Especially lovely were the vocals of Zita Smoliakova, whose powerful vibrato added authenticity and compassion to the music and dancing.

And what dancing it was. The performance comprised two suites of short numbers illustrating the Cuban version of Spanish flamenco dancing.

Sometimes the entire company (22 women) danced, sometimes groups of three or four, and twice, a soloist.

Alfonso herself was trained in ballet, as evidenced by her clever incorporation of pirouettes, spinning chainé turns and other classical steps, but throughout, the dancers stamped, clapped and spun with the fierce grace of bullfighters.

Wrists twisted with superhuman articulation. Arms snaked around heads with a come-hither hiss. Swirling, ruffled skirts served as virtual partners, as the dancers twirled and thrust them about, their lithe bodies always the spokes of these bright, fluid wheels. Yips and yells punctuated the air over the roaring staccato of the ever-hammering heels.

Perhaps the most informative piece, titled "Ire a Santiago," featured a West Side Story-styled "dance-off" between traditional Spanish flamenco and traditional Afro-Cuban dance.

Here we were able to see the distinct elements of each style — the formal reserve and intensely executed arm movements of the former, and the looser, collapsing and expanding torsos of the latter — and, subsequently, how the two are blended to perform Spanish dance "the Cuban way."

One almost wished for more of this type of expository dance, as it offered so much insight into the Cuban take on flamenco.


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