How do you recreate the atmosphere of flamenco in a large auditorium? This is the conundrum that has been looming for Patrick Woodroffe and Juan Belloqui for two years now. As flamenco star Joaquim Cortes becomes ever more popular, the pressure to move from the intimacy of a theatre to Europe's big arenas grows. Flamenco has traditionally been an experience best suited to a small gathering at a taverna on a warm summer night, but Cortes, trained at the Spanish National Ballet, draws upon modern and classical influences besides.
Pasion Gitana, or Gypsy Passion, as Cortes' show is titled, first took shape in 1995. At the time the Vari*Lite programmer provided by Vari-Lite Spain, Belloqui (he is typically known by this single name) was struggling with a designer out of his depth and unable to contend with the marriage of dance to technology. But Cortes' manager and promoter, Spanish impresario Pino Sagliocco, knew LD Patrick Woodroffe and called him in to assist. "I arrived in Madrid as the show was coming together," says Woodroffe. "The show was messy; it was long and complicated. In one hit, overnight, Belloqui and I had to redo the entire program, consolidating and tightening the lighting." Fortunately Belloqui was already well-versed in the material, and being a countryman of Cortes' had a natural instinct for the cue points of the show, which are by no means predictable.
"This is not a verse, chorus, guitar, rock-and-roll show," Woodroffe says. "Only a Spaniard could operate it." Furthermore, Belloqui is one of those operators who makes an Artisan(R) control console appear to be an extension of his own body: He is able to block out complicated new routines with Cortes onstage in a single afternoon before adding them to the repertoire that evening, then faultlessly retrace them as the show commences. Says production manager Steve Nolan, "I rate Belloqui one of best Vari*Lite programmers I've seen in a long time, up there with Gary Westcott and 'Oz' [Mike Owen]. Not just fast, but lots of ideas, too."
The presentation is austere: A heavily draped black box stage has just four trusses above carrying a minimal collection of VL5s(TM) and VL6s(TM), plus a few fresnels, PARs, and profiles. The one concession to scale since the show moved into the bigger halls is the addition of video screens to each side of the stage, supplied by Creative Technology; the audience mimics the taut grimaces of the performers, writ large on the screens.
For lighting, Woodroffe and Belloqui simply use tungsten and arc sources to convey the two essential and contrasting emotions of the show, feigned cold indifference and hot Latin passion. But the show is not all focused intensity; indeed, a band and singers some 15-strong arrayed across the back of the stage provide a consistent foil to the dancers, and for two numbers carry the show singlehandedly. Fourteen women and two other male leads besides Cortes complete the troupe, and the show gravitates from spells of concentrated emotion by solo dancers to sweeping ensemble routines.
Cortes himself does not have a big number until a full hour into the show. But his 20-minute performance is one of smoldering intensity; he spins the audience through a litany of emotions while a flurry of blue and amber hues shadows his every nuance. So powerfully do his actions communicate that the merest turn of his head can propel a Vari*Lite sweep into the audience. Real Gypsy magic.