1.00pm - By RAEWYN WHYTE

Flamenco is one of the world's most passionate and richly musical forms of performance, communicating profound emotions through an exhilarating blend of dance, singing and guitar.

The music and dance are highly responsive to one another, sharing an improvised structure and constantly communicating.

The songs are poetic and heartfelt, speaking of love and joy, death, despair and oppression, accompanied by delicate nuances of guitar and percussion. The emphatic gestures and drumming heels of the dancer intensify the mood of the song, make the story richer and draw the audience into an emotional vortex.


The women's costumes are colourful and stylish, traditional floor-length dresses with spiral ruffles, trains and underskirts which flare out and are drawn up to reveal the legs. The men wear everyday clothing.

On stage, the lighting helps you to see all the details of the dance and the dancers' faces.

Flamenco is not the oldest form of Spanish dance - older still are regional folk dances and baile espanol, the Spanish classical dance first taught in the great Spanish dance school of the 18th century, the Escula Bolero.

Just as in flamenco, in baile espanol there is a lyrical partnership between dance and music, an emphasis on the fast and technically tricky footwork known as zapateado, an elegant stance, and the clear communication of feelings.

But the feet are turned out, with more emphasis on technical mastery and ensemble work, and the dances are choreographed rather than improvised around traditional rhythms.

When Rafael Aguilar established his company Ballet Teatro Espanol in Paris in 1960, his goal was to see Spanish dance acclaimed in theatres throughout the world and respected as one of the world's great art forms. He wanted to present Spanish themes and tell dramatic stories through baile espanol, and to show some of the traditional folk dances no longer performed in Spain.

Above all, he wanted flamenco to be recognised as an intensely lyrical and passionate art rather than the degraded form of entertainment it had become in the tourist cafes and nightclubs of Spain under Franco.

His own training was in both flamenco and classical ballet. By 1960 he was ready to start choreographing dance works of his own. So he started the company, with outstanding soloists and a strong corps of dancers trained in both flamenco and baile espanol, plus flamenco musicians.


Recognising that audiences new to flamenco might be unwilling at first to accept a full evening of flamenco performance, Aguilar devised a triple-bill format similar to that being presented in Auckland this week - a suite of regional folk dances in a wide range of moods, a dramatic baile espanol with Spanish themes, and a longer flamenco puro suite.

Aguilar was one of the first choreographers to turn to Spanish literature and theatre as the inspiration for narrative flamenco ballets, and one of the first to choreograph to music by contemporary Spanish composers. He was also the first choreographer to present an evening-length narrative flamenco ballet.

When the National Ballet of Spain was founded in 1978, he was one of five master choreographers whose works were chosen for the company's repertoire to represent the major strands of Spanish choreography.

Throughout his 35 years as a choreographer and artistic director, Aguilar was a key player in the development of flamenco dance theatre, a new form of presentation which has heightened the natural drama of flamenco dance and broadened its appeal to international audiences.

Acclaimed as a landmark of Spanish ballet, and for their breathtaking choreography, Aguilar's works provided the impetus for others to follow. By touring his programmes around the world to considerable acclaim he helped to create a demand which continues.

Throughout the company's existence, many distinguished dancers have performed Aguilar's repertoire - among them stars of the past and the present such as Lola Greco, El Grilo and Eva Yerbabuena. They have gone on to establish companies, create new choreographies and add their own innovations to the continually evolving styles of flamenco dance theatre.

Aguilar died in 1995, but his company preserves his legacy and presents it to the world under the artistic direction of founding company member Carmen Salinas. Currently 24 dancers and 6 musicians, they have recently danced in Germany, Russia, Italy, Singapore and Australia, and now come to New Zealand.

This week they present a triple bill in Auckland.

Aires de Ida y Vuelta is a suite of dances influenced by Central and South American traditions brought back to Spain by returning workers and set to music by the Spanish composer Ginastera.

Bolero is the dramatic centrepiece of the programme, a work of baile espanol which pits a bare-chested male dancer against a platoon of soldiers and surrounds him with intently watching women. The work is set to Ravel's famous Bolero.

Suite Flamenca is the richest flamenco pura, with live flamenco music, and includes a lively and joyful Alegrias, a sorrowing Petenera, a sensuous Seguiriyas and a sizzling Farruca.

The company's outstanding soloists and fine corps de ballet have been selected for their expressive artistry and disciplined technical virtuosity. Principals Fernando Solano (Bolero), Rosa Jiminez and Lydia Cabello, and soloists Francisco Guerrero and Trinidad Artiguez (Suite Flamenca) have been acclaimed throughout the world.

Singer Maria del Mar and guitarists Miguel Linares and Javier Romanos are a powerful presence in the flamenco suite, which closes the programme.

* Raewyn Whyte teaches dance at Unitec and is co-ordinator of the nzdancenews information service.


*What: Bolero Flamenco

*Where and when: Civic Theatre, tomorrow to Sunday, 8pm; plus Saturday 2pm, Sunday 1pm and 5pm