Dance Review: Los Farruco at Lisner Auditorium

By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 27, 2009

It takes unusual intensity and focus to make the cavernous Lisner Auditorium feel like a back-street bar in Seville, but such are the gifts of Los Farruco. Dancing Wednesday as part of the ninth annual Flamenco Festival, the intimate group of descendants of the late, venerated master El Farruco performed nonstop for nearly two hours, drawing the capacity audience into a spare and cathartic private world.

This was not the flamenco of trailing ruffles and flowers behind the ears. El Farruco (full name: Antonio Montoya Flores) was a Gypsy dancer; his flamenco was hot and animal, boiling up from the gut. His middle-aged daughters, Rosario Montoya and Pilar Montoya Manzano, paid homage to that style, stalking the stage as the singers and guitarists behind them conjured a storm of pain, then suddenly yielding an explosion of footwork that must have set teeth chattering in the front rows. Manzano, otherwise known as La Faraona, is massive, and when she circled her wrists beguilingly above her head, the flesh of her forearms looked as soft and plump as a baby's. But her legs were all business: Lifting her skirt in a moment of emotional frenzy, she exposed linebacker calves that could have been cut from oak.

The voluptuous Montoya, who calls herself La Farruca, was the heart of the program, dancing with a bandage on one knee but still able to pump her legs and charge downstage with fire in her eyes. Mostly, you were struck by her majestic, expressive arms and smoky charisma, and the way she was in clear command even when flanked by the two young men who provided the evening's technical fireworks: her son Antonio Fernández Montoya, or Farruco -- the show's star -- and his cousin Juan Antonio Fernández, who goes by Barullo. (Nothing is uncomplicated in this family.)

Farruco and Barullo, each with long hair matted to sweaty brows, pumped high doses of machismo into their stamping, skittering feet, which traveled at high speed and flicked every which way. Farruco's unaccompanied footwork, especially, was electrifying. Missing, though, was the rough elegance and emotional abandon of his mother; Farruco's solos were calculated down to the last flip of his hair.

Every bit as virtuosic as the male dancers, guitarists Antonio Rey and El Tuto drew what seemed like an orchestra's worth of sound from their instruments; singers Antonio Zuniga, Pedro el Granaíno, El Rubio de Pruna and Mara Rey produced more shades of agony, sorrow and determination than I knew existed.

One factor that made the evening feel so enjoyably private and personal was how the dancers often danced to each other, or the musicians, rather than directly facing the audience. The important relationship was among the performers; there was a sense that through the dancing, something essential was being communicated all around. It was a deeply supportive atmosphere, and given the intense attention the other performers paid to whoever was in the spotlight, there were moments when you felt as if you'd been invited to a locals-only ritual.

But the family was missing its most notorious member -- El Farruco's eldest grandson, known as Farruquito -- because offstage, Los Farruco has encountered real-life drama to top what they produce onstage. Farruquito, formally known as Juan Manuel Fernández Montoya, is a flamboyantly athletic and popular dancer -- he gave an unforgettable performance with Farruco, his younger brother, at Wolf Trap in 2003 -- and has long been considered the clan's patriarch. But three months after that Wolf Trap show, he was the driver in a fatal hit-and-run in Seville and was subsequently sentenced to three years in prison. Farruquito served two-thirds of the sentence and was granted a provisional release in January but is not part of this tour. As was clear Wednesday, the rest of Los Farruco can do quite well without him.

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