Review – Maria Pagés and Company – 2010 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival

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Tonight’s trip to see Maria Pages at Sadler’s Wells has me convinced that there’s almost a deliberate curatorial choice to program better and better groups as the flamenco festival progresses; it was even better than the very fine Eva Yerbabuena a few days ago and leaps away from Nuevo Ballet Espanol.

Pages chose to, in some ways, go for an even purer flamenco representation; the performance took place on an almost consistently bare stage with an arc of musicians to the rear. There were a very few bits of stage dressing: a mirror; a large, golden, wood picture frame; a series of somewhat smaller frames. It was clear that the focus was on the dancing and the music. Thank goodness the costuming rose to meet the challenge; rather than the crayon cartoonishness of Nuevo Ballet or the relentless bleakness of Eva, we had a series of gorgeous dresses for Pages: pinkish and bias cut with purple net fluttering above it; green shimmering into blue ruffles that looked like a peacock’s tail; a cut velvet thing that took big dares with green and gold and purple and came out looking like a 20s Spanish fantasy. The four women dancers were given gorgeous dresses of a generally simple, yet not boring cut that lent themselves to movement; best of all was when the quartet came out in pastel Chinese dressing gowns. They must have been warm but they looked like a flock of songbirds or strangely transplanted Mikado chorus girls.

And the dancing? Well, from the very start, I was reminded that there is so much more to flamenco than stamping feet. Yes, there are fans and castanets (the show had both, and tossed in some canes for the men to use like extra shoes, tapping on the ground); yes, you can do showy things with trailing skirts and flying shawls (Rothbart could really pick up a trick or two from Pages’ golden cape); but flamenco uses your whole body and that means from the toes to the fingertips. Pages’ arms were a lesson in how it ought to be done for all of those young girls who think the only thing they’re supposed to be doing with their hands on stage is holding their skirts up like fishwives. She arced her arms and twisted and fluttered her wrists and expressed entire worlds of emotions before she did more than draw a slow circle on the ground with her toe; I saw echoes of Kate Winslet’s hand guesturing somewhat helplessly toward a fogged up window in Titanic. Pages had that kind of eloquence, and it seemed to inform her entire company; the women seemed to try to tell the dance with all of their body instead of just their shoes. The black dressed men, meanwhile, were laughing and rat-a-tat-tat and seemingly having a good time playing and flinging their sweaty hair around; none of them seemed a particular standout but in their elaborate interactions with their female companions and with Pages they seemed happy enough to be birds of paradise enacting ritualized dances of passion among their somewhat distant potential mates.

If this show lacked anything, it was the sense of improvisation and connection I love so much about flamenco, a trait I see very much as “jazzy;” it’s a very live artform, not one that handles unison group dancing and canned step sequences very well. Everyone seemed to have their work for the evening pretty cut out for them and I didn’t much see them responding to each other or making eye contact. Still, I felt the level of artistry was very high, and a long way from Gold Coast tourist tablaos. With the skill getting better every night, I can’t wait for the big gala tomorrow.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 25, 2010. The final performances in the 2010 Flamenco Festival take place Friday and Saturday, with the sold-out Gala Flamenca. I’ve got tickets; read it and weep!)

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3 Responses to “Review – Maria Pagés and Company – 2010 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival”

  1. Dance review – Gala Flamenca (Molina, Galván, Liñán, López) – 2010 Salder’s Wells Flamenco Festival « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews London Theater reviews by an American expat – on a budget « Review – Maria Pagés and Company – 2010 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival […]

  2. janice forde Says:

    spot-on! It was very much a choreographed show.
    However, I felt very much that this was a flamenco family on stage, beautifully exemplified by the number, unlike any I have ever seen, in which the women wore kimonos, and Pages spoke with her castanets as well as her own voice. Brilliantly humorous, even if you couldn’t understand a word.
    My flamenco teacher says flamenco was never folk dance; it has always been performance art. This production took each of the elements of a stage show and simplified and refined; the lighting was exquisite, the singing outstanding, the sound undistorted, which is unfortunately rare for flamenco in large theatres. The mirror used at the beginning of the evening, the picture-frame you mention, the sticks, castanets used just once, to great effect- there was a terrific imagination in the staging
    What a gorgeous dancer – what a woman. . .

  3. Review – Royal Ballet Triple Bill (Asphodel Meadows, Carmen +1) – Royal Opera House « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] (though seriously, Tamara Rojo should learn how to flip a “bata de cola” – I saw five days of flamenco in which not a single person had to use their hands to turn their skirts, and it just looked […]

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