NEW YORK -- You suspect you're not seeing a run-of-the-mill flamenco performance when Rafaela Carrasco begins her routine in sleek black leather pants and shoes of fire-engine red.
Your suspicion is confirmed when her four male partners – brimming with machismo, all of them – come out in shimmering, silvery flamenco skirts with dramatic trains.
The role reversal doesn't feel gimmicky, though – it's just plain entertaining, and impressive.
Those long flamenco skirts aren't just for show, after all: They must be navigated in the choreography, with expert kicks and turns. Carrasco's male partners, performing with her Sunday at New York City Center's Flamenco Festival 2012, did the job with passion and precision.
Flamenco is one of those dance forms that a lot of people seemingly know just a little bit about. Ruffled skirts, black shoes tapping, castanets – yes, they're all there. But flamenco can be a lot more varied than that, as New York audiences learned during the four-day festival.
The Seville-based Carrasco, whose company closed out the festival, is one of those flamenco interpreters who incorporate modern elements into their routines; hence the nontraditional costume choices early in the show. But Carrasco also was paying homage to the past and to the popular songs recorded by Federico Garcia Lorca, the poet who was executed at the start of the Spanish Civil War.
While a flamenco band played at the back of the stage, Carrasco and the four men joined with singers Manuel Gago and Gema Caballero to perform 12 songs adapted from Lorca's work. (A scratchy original recording from 1931 also was used at the end.)
All the dancers wore distinctive red shoes, whether with a flowing white gown, as Carrasco wore, or with her sharp leather look, or, on the men, in their sleek black suits or those shiny skirts.
At times, Carrasco's male cohorts – David Coria, Ricardo Lopez, Jose Maldonado and Pedro Cordoba – seemed to be veering into jazz; at others, their constant turning and balancing required the precision of ballet dancers.
But the real focus this year was on female flamenco stars, and the festival began Thursday evening with a gala featuring the veteran dancer Carmen Cortes, known for her pure flamenco (flamenco puro), along with Carrasco and the lovely Olga Pericet, both stars of the younger generation. For the flamenco aficionados in the crowd, and there seemed to be many, there was a style to fit every taste.
Another nice touch: the tapas and Spanish wine on sale at the concession stands. Not to mention the free flamenco lessons before the performances, similar to lessons in other styles given at City Center's autumn Fall for Dance festival.
The lovely music and the passionate vocals must be mentioned, and even though there were no translations available – and why not, we ask – the gut-wrenching emotion came through loud and clear.