La Nina performed with flamenco guitarist Maria Zemantauski and drummer Brian Melick at UAlbany on Wednesday night.
I came for the dance. But stayed for the music.
Not that the dance was bad, but the guitar strumming of the great Maria Zemantauski was a revelation. On Wednesday night at UAlbany’s Performing Arts Center, this flamenco guitarist shared her gift, openly, honestly and purely. And the love affair she clearly has with her guitar eclipsed anything else on that stage – not La Nina’s zapateado nor Brian Melick’s joyous drumming. Zemantauski held her audience in a trance.
Certainly, she was the headliner for this concert that was to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. And this Spanish music performer could have easily stood alone on the bill as she was able to manipulate her music into sounding like a ensemble of guitars and drums.
Still, her wonderful playing was furthered by dancer La Nina, a mature woman whose dancing rejects flash and zeroed in on rhythmic precision of her rapid and complicated foot work and her bold fingering of the castanets. While she had the elegant stance of a formidable flamenco artist, the regal chest with arms poised behind her back like a dashing matador, La Nina also appeared warm without the badge of vanity that many flamenco dancer often wear. She instead settled on the dance’s beauty and simplicity.
As she snaked her arms and unfurled her fingers and then planted her heels and toes into the floor, she became a straightforward vessel carrying traditional complex rhythms into the future as she wended her way through the Farruca, the Siguiriya and the Alegria and other dances.
At one point, she pulled out a shawl, swinging it above and around her head and gracefully, using momentum to send it falling and wrapping around her shoulders and torso. The fluidity of the flying manton and the soaring music merged into an exquisite display of sight and sound.
Percussionist Melick was a fine accompanist – responsive to both guitarist and dancer with his agile handling of his tambourine and drums, the box, udu and djembe.
But once again, I go back to Zemantauski who beguiled. She was the driver behind the magic. I am grateful I was there.