Celebrating five years in the Logan Square neighborhood, Chiara Mangiameli’s flamenco studio presented its annual showcase last weekend at the Vittum Theater. I agreed to review the performance, not quite realizing that Love Song was a student showcase. Inspired by a T.S. Elliot poem, the central figure of Studio Mangiameli’s production was its namesake Chiara Mangiameli, a DePaul grad whose experience crosses between theater, flamenco, and singing. One could see her repeated appearances as an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on how you look at it; either way, Mangiameli is an intoxicating figure on stage. But the point of this performance should have been to feature her students, and Mangiameli’s excessive time onstage seemed unnecessary at best, self-indulgent at worst.
Don’t get me wrong here. Love Song was a fun and enjoyable evening of good dancing that brought its audience to its feet for a rousing ovation. As it should! Mangiameli has a clear passion for flamenco in its many forms (we saw fans, shawls, kerchiefs and castenets complimented by absolutely gorgeous costuming). Her drive and desire to share this passion with her students and community in an accessible way is apparent. Her product and brand are polished, her persona elegant, and she makes clear her desire to go above and beyond to take flamenco and the conventional dance recital beyond its traditional boundaries.
Connecting recital dances with a loose narrative and choppy transitions doesn’t push any boundaries that I’m aware of, but the fact that this showcase featured many skilled adults and a singular dance form did make it feel less like a recital. Nonetheless, “pay to play” dance does not require a critical eye – that’s not what it’s there for. What I can say, however, is that I left the Vittum Theater feeling joyful, happy to know that Studio Mangiameli is thriving, and with a desire to experience this dance form for myself. The latter hasn’t happened in quite a while.