Metaphor. Métaphore. Metafoor: In so many languages, it’s a euphonious, fey word; it’s the stuff of dreams and poetry; it’s the lens through which many artists gaze while creating. In Spanish the word is “Metáfora,” and it’s the title of flamenco dancer and choreographer Rubén Olmo’s two-part, evening-length work that pays homage to a dance tradition steeped in the imagery of blood, sweat, and fire.
Presented by World Music/CRASHarts, “Metáfora” will have its US premiere Friday and run through Sunday at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, performed by Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía, which is making its Boston debut with the piece.
The production is on the roster of Flamenco Festival, the Madrid-based touring organization directed by founder Miguel Marín. Showcasing many of Spain’s vibrant artists — those who perform “flamenco puro” as well as genre-pushing dancers such as Israel Galván — the festival has grown from a tiny, three-city tour in 2000 to what World Music/CRASHarts executive director Maure Aronson calls “an international brand.”
Indeed, what began as Marín’s quest to bring Spanish flamenco artists to this country — something that, as a graduate student at New York University, he noticed was strikingly absent from New York’s otherwise healthy international dance scene — has expanded into London, Moscow, São Paolo, and Sydney. From the festival’s offices in Spain, Marín gleefully noted that in the United States alone last year, “we did over 40 shows.”
The young, charismatic Olmo, something of a rock star in the world of flamenco dance, brings to the form the flavors of his earlier, extensive training in classical ballet. In the specific — or persnickety, depending on your point of view — parlance of the Spanish community, Olmo is therefore a “bailarín,” one who has trained in a variety of styles, rather than a “bailaora,” one who has studied only flamenco.
It’s true, Olmo said from Spain last week, through a translator, that some flamenco artists claim the genre shouldn’t be mixed with other styles. In his opinion, however, flamenco dance is a living, evolving art form that can be enriched and even revolutionized through exposure to and exploration with other dance.
As with many art forms, this tension between the old and the new, between tradition and exploration, can be sticky. “This is an old discussion,” said Marín wryly, but “for me I bring everything down to artistry. What is true is what is connected with the vision of the artist. Sometimes [an artist] can do things that are very traditional, just to please the audience, but [the results] may not be very true.”
In any event, Olmo the choreographer joins a long line of dance makers — among them Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan — who have seized upon Friedrich Nietzsche’s ruminations about dance as metaphor. The German philosopher is quoted in “Metáfora” program notes as well as in the second part’s epigraph.
Olmo said the first part of “Metáfora,” titled “Suite flamenca,” is, in many ways, his tribute to artists such as Rocío Coral, who he believes have interpreted and elevated the traditional dances.
Among the more traditional aspects of the “Suite flamenca” section are five live musicians who alternately drive, then support the dancers. The dances largely comprise classical flamenco forms, but Olmo’s background in classical ballet is evident, too: a pirouette here, an arabesque there, popping up amidst the sevillanas, seguidillas, and jotas.
The costumes in this part are designed by Eduardo Leal Ruiz. The men are draped handsomely — sometimes they are sexy, casual matador figures, sometimes they are sleek, space-age monks — and the women sumptuously: In their first entrance, bata de cola skirts cascade and shimmer below while large manton shawls parachute and billow above. Though the other costumes throughout “Metáfora” are luxurious in their variety, there’s no stage picture quite like the women manipulating the bata de cola layers into a sea of swirling skirts.
It is this use of ensemble — 11 dancers in addition to Olmo and Pastora Galván (Israel’s sister, and herself another of today’s stars) — that is one of the more contemporary touches that Olmo has employed in “Metáfora.”
Marín sees this as another example of how Olmo has been influenced by other forms of theatrical dance. “He has this vision of choreography that can include a larger ensemble, which in flamenco is done rarely,” Marín said. In “Metáfora,” the effect is that of a corps de ballet that provides context along with, and in support of, the soloists.
“I actually find that the evening can be more interesting,” said Aronson. “To perform the solo or duo form of flamenco, you have to be very compelling to command the stage for 90 minutes. There are people who can do it, but there aren’t many of them.”