Soledad Barrio & Noche Flamenca
San Francisco, CA
February 14, 2017
by Rita Felciano
copyright © 2017 Rita Felciano
We probably didn't need a supertitle declaring a newly appointed ruler's desire to "make Thebes great again" to hear echoes. Throughout its eighty minutes this re-conception of Sophocles' "Antigone" periodically sent shivers through Z Space, San Francisco's cavernous warehouse theater where wails and stomping feet disappeared into the surrounding vastness. Maybe only Jean Anouilh's 1944 version, created during the darkest days of France's Nazi occupation, called up more resonance. Yet female strength speaking truth to power is not exactly outdated history. Martín Santangelo's passionately envisioned, superbly performed "Antigona" has a few missteps in terms of length and in Haemon's (Juan Ogalla) weakly drawn character, his impressive, lengthy zapateado not withstanding. (You can partly blame Sophocles for that). Still, this "Antigona," first presented in 2015, is a masterful realization of what might be seen as one extended cante jondo.
Noche Flamenco in "Antigona" Photo: Chris Bennion
I have always wondered why Sophocles wrote "Antigone" as the first of the Theban trilogy when chronologically, it should have been the last. Antigone has survived as an icon of female empowerment but also as a deeply conservative woman who held the laws of the gods and family above expediency. Santangelo digs deep into the myth, setting loose large theatrical forces, none more so than Soledad Barrio's heroine. The choreography relies heavily on heelwork which hammers incessantly. Santangelo is not the first director who works within "world dance" traditions to step into narrative -- Kathak, Balinese and Korean dance come to mind -- but "Antigona" must be one of the most successful ones in the way it bridges theater and dance.
With Hades (Robert Wilson) releasing the Fates from the underworld, Santangelo opens "Antigona" on a cynical note. Master of Ceremonies (Emilio Florida, also a singer) delivers deriding snippest of probably the most dysfunctional family in history. You almost expect this "Antigona" to become satire. Yet these moments also introduce the faithful Antigona who gently guides her blinded, disgraced father (Carlos Perez Vega) towards his end. Creon (Manuel Gago) s a full of himself leather-and-boots egomaniac convinced that only he can renew Thebes; his coronation, accompanied by stomping feet and mocking kazoos, tells us differently. Yet in his confrontation with the blind philosopher/seer Tiresias, he makes forceful points for a Macciavellian type of rule. Here the law of the gods against the laws of men couldn't be spelled out more clearly.
Marina Elana (familiar to local audiences from dancing with Caminos Flamencos) gives Ismene a carefully nuanced characterization. An ordinary woman, attracted to power -- she dances the bull to Creon's toreador -- she is ultimately heart-broken by not following in her beloved Antigone's heroic steps. The trio of the younger siblings at first suggests a touch of comedy until Eteocles (hip-hop dancer Wilson) and Polyneices' (Flamenco dancer Carlos Menchaca) fulminating solos mark the differences between the brothers. Menchaca's whipping turns and one-leg balances compete with Wilson's thrusting limbs and flips. Their struggle to the death becomes a dramatic, somewhat extended duet between two genres of dancing but somehow also reminded me of two other unequal characters Mercutio and Tybalt.
At one point -- necessitated by a complicated scene change, involving a "dead" body -- Eugenio Iglesias, his head in the mask of tragedy, played a quiet, mournful guitar solo. The contrast between those empty eye sockets and the expressive music invited contemplation.
But "Antigona" would not be possible without the extraordinary performance by Barrio who gives this work a dimension that grows deeper and more otherworldly as it goes on. Powerful in her legs with footwork that is dizzying in its speed and precision, she strides along the floor as if skimming the earth. Her arms circle and rise in butterfly fingers and powerfully reach out to both humans and gods. Hers is an integrated performance that slowly moves from dutiful daughter through despair and agony to a kind madness. "Antigona's" one weakness is the 'Ode to Love' duet for Barrio and Ogalla's Haemon. We see Antigona as a woman deeply in love but the connection between the two never happens. The end includes a splendid touch of theater. After a lengthy racking solo, Barrio helps the stricken Creon up -- to take a bow.