At 28 years old, Jesús Carmona is one of the youngest dancers yet to headline the Santa Barbara Flamenco Arts Festival. Flamenco, after all, is an art of passion and spirit — that almost mystical quality known as duende — and duende can take some time to develop. Apparently, Carmona’s had time enough.
Last Saturday night at the Granada, the rising Spanish star made his striking U.S. debut. A former principal dancer with Ballet Nacional de España, Carmona has both the subtle, fluid articulation of a world-class contemporary dancer and the dramatic, explosive authority that his chosen art form requires. In Cuna Negra & Blanca, he uses a loose narrative structure to frame his performance. Yet such is his charisma and his virtuosity that that frame all but falls away.
The show’s title translates to Black-and-White Crib, and over the course of the evening, Carmona danced a trajectory from darkness to light. He was joined by two very different and equally beautiful bailadoras: the petite, wonderfully nuanced mover Lucia Campillo, dressed in black lace, and the radiant, powerful Esther Esteban, clad entirely in white. There’s nothing subtle about these metaphors for sorrow and joy, but the power of the production lies in the performers themselves.
In the show’s opening sequence, Carmona, in a long black jacket, stood motionless downstage left as brothers José and Maka Ibañez cried into their mikes. The stage was dark, with two dim shafts of dusty light descending diagonally to the floor. All eyes were on Carmona as he lifted one arm, circled a wrist, and wrapped his fingers around the rung of a chair.
Then his feet began to move: an almost imperceptible shuffle that built to an urgent fusillade at its crescendo — and still his upper body was liquid calm.
The evening was full of these moments; they’re the reason audience members cried out spontaneously, halfway rose from their seats, and sat back with sighs.
Even in Seville, Spain, where savvy flamenco audiences are hard to impress, Carmona has made a strong impression. Maybe it’s because of his sheer range of emotion, from the head-whipping, sweat-flying, foot-stomping passion one would expect of a flamenco great to the moments of soaring subtlety, like a tight whipping turn out of which he slows, rises, softens, and for one or two glorious beats hangs suspended before touching down silently.