Critic’s Pick

A Flamenco Star’s Percussive Mastery and Insouciant Subversions

Israel Galván brought a new iteration of his visually pared-down, danced-without-music “Solo” to Baryshnikov Arts Center.

A dancer, wearing an apron and white boots with heels (and a flower behind one ear), is caught mid-movement, his arms above his head.
Israel Galván, known for his boundary-pushing takes on flamenco, in “Solo” at Baryshnikov Arts Center.Credit...Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

The dancer Israel Galván, known for his irreverent deconstructions of flamenco, has been performing some version of his a cappella work, “Solo,” since 2007; it first came to New York in 2008. The version he presented at Baryshnikov Arts Center on Monday night appears to have evolved over the past 15 years, more elaborate now in its electronic manipulations of sound, if still visually pared down. But the basic premise remains: For a swift and intense 50 minutes, Galván is on his own, without musical accompaniment, underscoring the force of dance as music in itself, and displaying his otherworldly skill as a percussionist.

Galván’s reputation as a flamenco renegade precedes him. The son of flamenco dancers from Seville, he has been challenging inherited traditions since at least the late 1990s, when audiences reportedly walked out of his first show for his own company, “¡Mira!/Los Zapatos Rojos” (“Look! The Red Shoes”) at Seville’s Bienal de Flamenco.

I had never seen Galván perform live until Monday, and in finally experiencing his flamboyant counterarguments to classical forms, I was most surprised by his levity. Even as he earnestly puts on a show, “Solo” has a goofy, off-the-cuff humor, at times resembling clowning or mime. While it seems that a trickster mentality has always been essential to his work, I wondered — especially in some of his more ridiculous moments — if he has taken to poking fun not only at the conventions of flamenco but also at the convention-bucking persona he has constructed.

“Solo” begins on what looks like a bare stage, empty except for a small round wooden board, a standing microphone and a pair of hot-pink rubber boots. Galván enters in a red apron worn over a black T-shirt and pants, with white, heeled shoes. The apron suggests cooking — or perhaps to traditionalists, butchering. Beginning with a simple rhythm that grows in complexity, the pulse of his feet reverberating into his shoulders, he proceeds with the energy of whipping something up in the kitchen, with whatever ingredients are at his disposal.

Galván throws in references: to ballet, to sports, to Michael Jackson.Credit...Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

Between eruptions of bracingly intricate footwork and body percussion, Galván throws in a reference to ballet here, sports there. He skims across the stage with a little arabesque hop (the audience laughs) and, using a speaker as a barre, does a few first-position pliés. He slinks into a pose with angled elbows that looks at first like Nijinsky, then like Michael Jackson. In a flash, his expressive palms flick as if tossing a basketball. At one point he rummages through his apron to pull out a tiny square of red fabric — a matador’s cloth in miniature — which he waves once, smiling, and then discards on the ground.

More stagecraft stealthily reveals itself: patches of the floor designed to produce rumbling, booming, rattling or scraping when his feet make contact. (Pedro León is credited with sound.) In a small pile of sand, Galván falls to his knees and mimes digging himself out with a toy shovel, before donning those pink rubber boots for another sonic experiment.

Yet for all his risk-taking and rebellion, a softer sincerity comes through in the work’s final, unassuming moments. To spend your career reconfiguring an art form, you have to love it on some level. In an anti-grand finale, as if to reconnect with his foundation, Galván removes his shoes and dances with nothing between the soles of his feet and the floor.


Through Tuesday at Baryshnikov Arts Center, Manhattan;