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Paco Peña brings Flamenco dance company to Rialto

Paco Peña

Paco Peña

Concert Preview
“A Compás: To the Rhythm”

The Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company. 8 p.m. Oct. 10. Rialto Center for the Arts, 80 Forsyth St. N.W., $36-$62. 404-413-9849, www.rialtocenter.org.

By Pierre Ruhe
In Southern Spain, you’re likely to find the timeless folk flamenco dance in unexpected, spontaneous places — a group of Gypsies by a roadside caravan, young Spaniards off in the corner at a bar or at a citywide street fair, often highlighted by a fervently observed (and passionately disputed) performance competition.
Stripped down to its essentials, all it takes is a dancer bursting with emotion, a pair of clapping hands and what the Spaniards call “duende,” a demon spirit that possesses performer and audience alike — the same mythic energy a matador and a bull share during a bullfight.
“Flamenco is not written down but passed down from generation to generation,” guitarist Paco Peña said, “so it continues to allow for new ideas to come into it.”
Peña’s world-famous flamenco troupe is coming to the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 8 with a show it’s been touring for more than a decade: “A Compás.” The two-hour spectacle — with wild-throated folk singers, virtuosic dancers and percussionists, and anchored by Peña and other guitarists — has even been to Atlanta before, although with new cast members and built-in improvisation, each performance is likely radically different from the next.
While in town, Peña’s dancers and musicians will also give free master classes to Atlanta-area aficionados, hosted by Decatur’s Several Dancers Core. They’re some of the best in the world, and Peña’s company veterans routinely branch off to form their own flamenco companies.
The term flamenco originally referred to a Gypsy from Seville and his dance, which was infused with ancient Moorish and Arabian influences.
As flamenco spread across Spain in the 19th century, and gradually moved from the cafes to indoor theaters, multiple strains of the art came to flourish.
“Flamenco is really difficult to define,” said Julie Baggenstoss, 35, a local flamenco teacher and impresario whose company, Jaleolé, exists mainly to promote flamenco in metro Atlanta. “It is singing, rhythmic clapping and dance that expresses unbridled emotions of pain, joy, jealousy, sorrow, unrequited love, humor, heartbreak.”
There’s a fixed basic rhythm, with variant steps and counterrhythms added in layers and with set dances such as the zapateado, the alegrias and the tango (which found a new and complex life of its own transplanted to Latin America).
Baggenstoss notes that outside Spain, audiences expect to see fast-stomping footwork and machine-gun blasts on the guitar — a contrast to the natural and more raw expression favored in its homeland. But flamenco’s lack of formal rules, she acknowledges, is what gives it incredible power.
“The tension comes in the contrast between what is fixed and what the interpreter brings to it,” she said. “Watching how a dancer or guitarist fights those rules, especially if there’s a high degree of virtuosity and with people shouting ‘Olé’ at the best moves, is thrilling.”

Pierre Ruhe blogs about classical music at ArtsCriticATL.com.

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