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Concert review: Paco Pena Flamenco Dance Company works its rare magic at the Touhill Performing Arts Center, Thursday, February 28

Concert review: Paco Pena Flamenco Dance Company works its rare magic at the Touhill Performing Arts Center, Thursday, February 28 facebook.com/pages/Paco-Pe%C3%B1a/112966708733505
Written by Gary Liam Scott
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Its origins shrouded in the mists of time and centered within the region of Andalusia, flamenco music and dance has nevertheless enthralled audiences the world over throughout its history.

Flamenco displays a veritable gallery of human emotions and passions—love, disdain, yearning, satisfaction, happiness, sorrow, beauty, acceptance—all of which were displayed by the Paco Pena Flamenco Dance Company on the stage of the Touhill Center on February 28, sponsored by the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society.

Since its establishment by Paco Pena in 1970, the troupe has garnered acclaim from every corner, and deservedly so. It is hard to believe that a performing ensemble of nine individuals and a technical crew of three are able to produce such a dazzling array of timbres, virtuosity, special effects and rhythmical panache. Moreover, the company does not rely on exotic costumes, lavish set designs, amplifiers or complex lighting to grasp the audience, but instead allows the power of human hands, feet and voices, all honed by rigorous practice, to work the magic.

In the popular mind, flamenco is often viewed as fire and brilliance, but this company delivers all that and much, much more. An expressive lyricism pervaded the performance, sometimes whispered, sometimes enunciated as a steady yet gentle pulse underlying the melodies and movements of the dancers. The pulse varied in strength and intensity, just as the pulse of a human heart varies, but it was always present.

The dancers performed as much with their arms and hands as with their feet. Rarely have I seen such expressive fluidity in the movements of human hands, even the hands of a skilled conductor. The hands of the dancers seemed to speak words of their own. Every component of the performance—dance, percussion, guitar, voice—seemed carefully phrased and delivered.

Perhaps the universal appeal of flamenco derives from the fact that so many cultures contributed to its development: indigenous Spanish, Jewish, Gypsy, Middle-Eastern, North African. Flamenco is a celebration of cultures, and a celebration of humanity.

This program marked an auspicious kick-off to the 50th anniversary season of the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society. Under the leadership of Bill Ash and his late wife Kathy, the Society has soared to new heights of artistic leadership not only in the St. Louis area, but internationally as well. Kudos to all for the partnership exhibited by the performers, SLCGS and the Touhill Center.

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