Spanish dancing, from its very inception, is meant for display. Today it is a classical form with experimental facets, and those who still think of it as folk dance should try to catch Mari'a Beni'tez and her company at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. Beni'tez's reputation is for flamenco, but the program that opened last night and continues through Saturday includes the balletic bolera, the equestrian zapateado, the bouncy jota and an assortment of other Spanish styles, some in highly individual variants.
Footwork is often the focus, but no part of the body remains casual, uncontrolled in this art and, as if to force the viewer's eyes up from the floor, Beni'tez was seated as she began her first solo.
Dressed in white, in front of a projection of intersecting white grids that suggested a prison of venetian blinds, Beni'tez danced with her wrists, hands and long fingers. Her torso and neck, though still, were held high and the head seemed contemplatively angled. There was no question that this was a woman steeped in moods, in thoughts.
The story she told, though, was not one of love or death. She delivered a monologue on movement. We learned of the pleasure of a hand caressing a shawl, the gradual elation of leaning back and then bringing the torso into motion. She conveyed the heroism of rising and the pride of standing, and finally the fierce individuality of asserting the heel and the toe.
Spanish footwork, even at its most riveting, never pulls the body down like so many other stamping dances. It's not light and skimming like tap but it can be as finely detailed.
Eduardo Montero, Beni'tez's principal partner, has the company's most dazzling footwork. As a stage personality, he's a bundle of contradictions -- vainly matter-of-fact, unprepossessingly proud, delicately macho. He's no youngster, nor is he slim, yet he moves with ease. His farucca toward the end of the program was a masterpiece of music and motion. Montero used the stage as a set of two drums, treading on the solid floor for clear sounds and using the hollow lip of the stage for echo effects. At the climax of this solo, he performed a long trill of quiver tapping that set the audience cheering. As befits a classical dancer, though, there was no transgression from virtuosity to showoff.
The company's two other women, Rosa Mercedes and Monica Flores, aren't as elegantly tall as Beni'tez but they have the requisite Spanish pride. Mercedes danced a neat bolera and Flores an alegri'as full of turns and good heel vibrato. Miguel Diez, with his dark hair and taut frame, looked like a model matador in the boot dances, but he was awkward in the jota. Timo Lozano was at his best in clownish solo. Singer Cuquito de Barbate and guitarists Paco Izquierdo and Guillermo Rios accompanied the dancers and performed brief solos.