BERKELEY -- Spain's Noche Flamenca will bring pain, pathos and the passion of premier flamenco performers to a one-night engagement at Zellerbach Hall on Feb. 8.
Celebrated for its "expressive tension" (The New York Times) and recognized as a leader in the art form, the 20-year old company operates under the collaborative vision of artistic director Martín Santangelo and co-founder, Soledad Barrio.
The husband-and-wife team fuse their histories to create a whirlwind of authentic song, instrumentation and dance.
Santangelo, the son of an Argentine mother, grew up in New York City and pursued his studies internationally. Barrio took command of flamenco's exquisitely syncopated rhythms and classical Spanish dance in her homeland, Madrid.
In an email interview, Santangelo explained the company's aesthetic and the purpose he finds in flamenco's "rebel cry."
"When we are beaten upon, we scream out," Santangelo says. "Originally, as in any cultural musical movement, the initial instrument was the human voice due to the itinerant circumstance of (the) groups."
At the inception of the Spanish Inquisition in the mid-15th century, Arabs, Sephardic Jews and Gypsies experienced extraordinary repression. Transporting instruments was difficult, both physically and logistically, so the people's "screams" developed into a rich, poetic combination of human voice and guitar.
The flamenco "conte," or song, was an auditory coupling governed by strict, rhythmic cycles and set free by improvisational license for the performers.
Flamenco dance evolved organically, in lock-step with the genre's inherently fluid music, during the 18th century. Highly influenced by European folk dance and performed with the elongated, upright posture of ballet, fiery footwork and spectacular solos are mainstays.
"The real motor of flamenco is the song: the guitar (player) and dancer really exist to interpret and express what the singer is singing," Santangelo insists.
But it's not Barrio's command of the technical aspects of a "Siguiriya" (an essential form of flamenco repertoire) that earns her the "Baryshnikov of flamenco" title. And it's not the splendid sonorities of the company's Manuel Gago or the dexterous guitar playing of Eugenio Iglesias that burns a hole in a listener's heart.
"Flamenco speaks about profound and basic human emotions," Santangelo says. "Those emotions exist within us all, no matter the cultural differences. I believe the most important aspect is, by the end of the show, if the (audience) has felt a catharsis. If they have not, I have not done my job correctly."
As an artistic director of an international touring company -- the dancers are based in Spain, the nonprofit company's registration and representation is in the United States -- Santangelo sees opportunity and challenge in an increasingly global community.
"All arts or musical phenomena now have the possibility to influence one another," he says. We are forced to find our function and identity within this. That is a gigantic change."
Technological innovations have an impact as well: improving sound amplification capabilities while simultaneously escalating audience expectations.
But none of these elements overpower Santangelo's overall mission.
"If the audience is just 'wowed' by the footwork or other artificial aspects of flamenco, then I might as well be selling Coca Cola," he says. "Flamenco was born because folks needed a catharsis to be able to get (on) with their lives. That is its function."
Martín Santangelo and his wife Soledad Barrio bring Noche Flamenca to Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley at 8 p.m. Feb. 8. Tickets and details are online at www.calperfs.berkeley.edu.