Traditional Spanish dancing is one part steel, one part silk. The steel can be found in the dancers' ramrod-straight carriage, their relentless, machine-gun-fire footwork, their sharp turns and sudden stops. The silk reveals itself in the sinuous workings of the torso, the hands and arms twining through space and the performers' artful manipulation of shawls and skirts. Ideally, these contrasting elements coexist to create an art form of great intensity and constant surprise.
Steel and silk were everywhere apparent at the Terrace Theater Wednesday night, as the Maria Benitez Spanish Dance Co. dazzled a packed house with a wide range of traditional and contemporary regional dances. But the steel overwhelmed the silk.
The primary reason for this imbalance was artistic director Benitez herself. Unlike the four other members of the troupe, she is an unremittingly severe and hard-edged performer. Though she appeared in only three solos, Benitez's powerful aura dominated the proceedings. A tall woman with a stunning physique, she possesses considerable technical gifts, particularly in the flamenco form. But her movements seem exhibition oriented and routine rather than heartfelt and freshly rendered.
Fortunately, her fellow performers -- Manolo de Cordoba, Sandra Jimenez, Rosa Mercedes and Rafael Torres -- are a far more personal and expressive bunch. Mercedes' performance of the balletic "Boleras" was a joy because of the lilting steps of this intricate dance and this sturdy young woman's stunning, unaffected style. Jimenez's agile, sculptural interpretation of "Alegrias" proved another gem. And though the two men did not register quite as strongly, their blistering footwork and proud, ever-shifting postures made one look and listen acutely.
The music -- most of which was performed live -- also erred on the side of steel. While guitarists Miguel Rodriguez and Paco Izquierdo and composer/pianist Elisenda Fabregas offered complex, often haunting accompaniment, singers Pepi de Malaga and Antonio Castillo wailed in a strident and one-dimensional style. These vocalists needed microphones about as much as Liberace needs a flashier wardrobe.
The program will be repeated tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m.