Review: ‘Binomio’ at GALA Hispanic Theatre

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Binomio, a flamenco show making its U.S. premiere at the GALA Hispanic Theatre, begins with two solo dances by Francisco Hidalgo and Anabel Moreno. The two dancers command the stage as they beat a fast rhythm with their heels, snapping out impossibly precise turns. Their faces are grave and composed, and so is the music. The sequence feels like an operatic aria: Hidalgo and Moreno show off their individual talents with feat after technical feat.

Francisco Hidalgo and Anabel Moreno. Photograph by Ana Palma.

Then the mood changes. A singer whoops and grins. The drum beat picks up, and suddenly the entire ensemble is cheering and clapping as Hidalgo and Moreno come together.

That contrast – solo and together, serious and humorous, brilliantly fast and sensuously slow – is what Binomio, choreographed and led by Hidalgo, is all about. Hidalgo writes in the program that Binomio is “two identities, two visions, two thought processes…[which] align to create a dialogue.” His show not only creates that dialogue, but makes it entrancing to watch and listen to for audiences of any language and cultural background.

In traditional flamenco, musicians, singers, and dancers pool their talents to convey pure emotion through their bodies, voices, and instruments. The form is a balancing act between the three types of artists. Unlike ballet, in which dancers take the stage and musicians are relegated to the orchestra pit, flamenco musicians and singers share the spotlight with the dancers to create a sense of longing and anguish.

Binomio plays on that dynamic by showcasing the extraordinary abilities of each ensemble member, then bringing them together again. Hidalgo’s dancing is so exact that he seems to cut the air in half with every movement. Moreno’s is more emotive, and she uses her face as much as her body to convey the emotion of flamenco. José Almarcha, on guitar, produces sweeping chords that switch from traditional Andalusian, to almost jazzy, to a river of notes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Chris Thile song. El Wafir S. Gibril provides rhythm on a set of tambourines, but he also plays the accordion, and in one memorable moment, he even brings out an electric lute. Both Ana Polanco and Trini de la Isla have gorgeous voices that slide up and down scales more adroitly than I thought was possible, and Polanco also dances in a cuplés, one of the show’s best numbers.

The show’s technical elements are minimal but elegant. The lighting alternates between spotlights, as one ensemble member or another launches into a solo, and a warm wash that shows off the performers’ rapport as an ensemble. At the beginning of the show, all the performers wear black with red accents, which plays on the ‘binomio’ theme. Moreno and Hidalgo frequently change costumes, and each of Moreno’s dresses seems lovelier than the last. The staging itself suited the performance space: even though I was sitting on the house left side, close to the back, I could always see every performer.

This isn’t to say that Binomio is perfect. The audio levels were imbalanced, meaning that Almarcha’s guitar often drowned out Polanco’s more subtle voice. (Both singers had microphones, but I wasn’t sure if Polanco’s worked properly.) At times, the lighting switched to an odd cross-cut that threw beams of narrow light across the stage – which the performers did not stand in. And, because Moreno and Polanco had eyes so expressive that they conveyed stories in themselves, Hidalgo’s face seemed blank in comparison.

None of those things take much away from the fact that Binomio brings world-class performers to the GALA stage. It also shows off the delicate balance between performance elements. As anyone who’s ever performed knows, the best shows combine participants’ talents into something greater than any one person could make. Binomio breaks down flamenco into its individual parts and performers, then builds it back up again.

If you’re a flamenco fan already, this show isn’t to be missed. If you’ve always wanted to see flamenco, choose Binomio. You won’t be disappointed.

Running Time: One hour and thirty minutes (no intermission).

Binomio plays through tomorrow, November 12th, at the GALA Hispanic Theatre – 3333 14th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. You can purchase tickets online.