Latin body language 

Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana dances into the Pikes Peak Center

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Try to think of the most poignant animal, capable of evoking all of the depths of human experience. Does an eagle embody betrayal? Does the graceful leap of a gazelle represent true love? Could a lion feeding from a fresh kill epitomize the horror of death?

No? Well, how about a flamingo?

While English-speakers might see a flamingo as a symbol for John Waters' campy schlock or an unfortunate choice of lawn ornament, flamenco, the Spanish word, has transcended those trivial associations and come to represent one of the most riveting, physically demanding, and evocative forms in Western dance.

Flamenco has enjoyed worldwide popularity for a while now. Expanding from its modest roots in the Andalusian region of Spain (the southern part of the country known for its intriguing mix of Arabic, Moorish, Gypsy and Jewish cultures -- not to mention home of the beloved wordsmith Federico Garca Lorca). As the dance, with its furious stomping and elaborate hand signals, spread quickly throughout the Spanish-speaking world, the modern form both influenced and absorbed the traditions of many Latin American dances. As the Hispanic population in the United States has increased, flamenco has gained popularity, and the dance form has evolved to incorporate jazz, ballet, and even some modern styles.

Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana is at the head of the pack of flamenco companies seeking to make audiences aware of flamenco's contemporary relevance. The indomitable Carlota Santana, who founded the dance company with Roberto Lorca in 1983, choreographs flamenco performances that showcase the dance form's Caribbean, Latin American and African influences.

Other flamenco musicians have jumped on the bandwagon, particularly in the mid-1990s, when flamenco choreographers in Seville, the alleged birthplace of the dance, began incorporating Argentine tangos, the gritty bar-folk of Tom Waits, the world music of Peter Gabriel and much more.

Flamenco's passion lies in its focus on storytelling. Typically, each individual flamenco dance tells some kind of story -- usually that of a spurned lover, whose voice is embodied by the haunting wail or cante of the accompanying singers and guitarists -- but the Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana Company has created longer, more intricate flamenco story ballets.

These ballet-cum-opera-cum-gypsy-folk epics include the Navidad Flamenca, a "flamenco Nutcracker"; Mano a Mano, a contemporary tribute to bullfighting; and Federico, an homage to the aforementioned poet Lorca. The latter included work commissioned by the Spanish composer Juan Campos; the book that provided the framework for Federico was written by Pennsylvania State University professor emeritus Manuel Duque.

Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana's torrents of stamping feet combine the magic of centuries-old tradition with the passion and measured dedication of contemporary movement. The traditional long, ornate dresses, frilly shirts, and emotive jaleos (the shouts of encouragement offered from the musicians and other dancers, which are the equivalent of a gospel choir singing "Amen" or a "holler back" in contemporary hip-hop) will all be there. But this company has greater motives.

As she told the New York Times, Carlota Santana hopes to "establish flamenco in the United States as a basic dance language, comprehensible to a lot of people."

-- Bettina Swigger

capsule Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana

Presented by the Colorado Springs Dance Theatre

Saturday, Jan. 16, 8 p.m.

Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.


520-SHOW or www.ticketmaster.com


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