Posts Tagged ‘Flamenco Festival London 09’

Review – Antonio Gades’ Company’s Carmen – Sadler’s Wells

March 22, 2009

On Friday night I went with Miko and J to Sadler’s Wells to see the Antonio Gades’ Company’s production of what I call “the Flamenco Carmen.” What I did not realize is that, substantially, this Carmen is not based on Bizet’s Carmen, but rather the Carlos Saura film of 1983. This was set in a flamenco school … or so I was told. At any rate, a lot of the strangeness of this show for me was based on the fact that I was expecting an interpretation of Bizet … though I can certainly enjoy a production no matter where it takes the source material. It’s all about the quality of the show as its own artistic creation, not its faithfulness to the source material – otherwise we get crap like four hour movies that capture every detail of a book but are boring to watch.

So how was this show? Well … mixed. First, I was unhappy that it was done to recorded opera music. This was substantially offset by the fact that it was done to live Flamenco music, but, still, it was cheesy, and I’ve become used to having only live music with my dance performances, so I didn’t like it, and it made the crowd scenes extra weird because the crowds … well, weren’t singing. The music we did have done live, however, was quite good; five singers (including a rather elderly looking lady that I believe goes by the name “La Bronce”) and three guitarists, plus all of the percussion a group of thirty dancers could provide.

The story itself was … well, sort of Carmen, but not really. The show started in a flamenco school, where people did row after row of similar movements, which went on forever, well past the time when I thought we were going to be heading into the cigarette factory district of Seville and meeting our heroine. At the center of the first row of dancers was a rather crazy looking woman with her hair pulled tightly back and an expression as grim as if she were facing death … and, yes, this was Stella Arauzo, our Carmen. There was never any moment when the crowd presented her to the audience with the wonderful Habanera “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle.” (This song, my favorite, showed up in the middle of the show, during some sort of seduction scene.) Instead … well, after a while, there was some sort of fight with some of the girls and Carmen, and Carmen knifes one of them.

Er … well, there are SOME elements of Carmen, as Don Jose (Adrian Galia) appears to be a police officer or something who loses his rank for setting Carmen free … but when Carmen runs off to be with a lover, it turns out to be … her husband … whom Don Jose kills in order to win Carmen back. There are no gypsies, no fortunetelling, no smuggling, but a bull fighter does finally show up, and Don Jose kills Carmen.

My favorite bit of all during this show was during what I think of the Lillas Pastia’s inn scene, where all the dancers gathered in the center of the stage and sang and clapped, while various people got in the middle and showed their stuff, including an elderly man that reminded me of Fezziwig, and the older female singer who looked like she was going to go offstage and bake us all some cookies. The bit was seemed full of joy and spontenaeity and I enjoyed it tremendously.

However, none of this could make up for the fact that I was unable to be convinced by our Carmen. Ms. Arauzo spend the whole night looking like she was expecting to be killed, possibly a minute or two after the curtain raised (by a falling sandbag, I suppose). She didn’t display the love of life and joy (and brashness) I expect of a Carmen; she glowered and had a temper, but didn’t … live. Her dancing seemed competent and was probably technically fine, but … maybe she was having a bad night. I don’t know. I just know that she was not pleasant to watch because of the glowering expression on her face and even her dancing did not capture me. It was a shame, really. I so much preferred the Mujeres show on Monday. Still, my friend M enjoyed it (though she also found great fault with the lack of “heart” and “hardness” of Arauzo), so it wasn’t a bad evening – just not one I’d particularly recommend.

(This review is for a performance that took place Friday, March 20, 2009. The production’s final show was tonight, March 22nd, but it will likely continue touring elsewhere.)

Review – “Mujeres” (Merche Esmeralda, Belen Maya, Rocio Molina) – Sadler’s Well’s Flamenco Festival 2009

March 18, 2009

Last night I went with W to Mujeres, the second show in the Sadler’s Well’s 2009 Flamenco Festival. I picked this show because I thought it was the most outstanding opportunity to see really good, “pure” (not group choreography) flamenco during the festival – with three outstanding performers, I assumed there’d be lots of opportunities for solo work. As it turns out, there was also several group (or couple) pieces, but they were generally quite spontaneous and fun. But onto the show itself …

The idea for this show was that there were to be three women dancing: Merche Esmeralda, who’s been dancing since before I was born (which I guess makes her around 60); Belen Maya, who is probably in her thirties; and Rocio Molina, who was generally being billed in the festival as a young gun and mostly qualifies as such given that she’s about 25 years old. So it wasn’t quite three generations of bailaoras, but darned close thanks to Ms. Esmeralda. In addition, Diana Navarro was performing solo singing duties, with accompaniment left to the three guitarists, four singers, and a percussionist.

Rather than review the performance piece by piece, I think talking about the individual dancers would make more sense. Here are my impressions.

Belen Maya, after starting the show windmilling her fans like Pete Townsend in the group opener, came back for a solo in a gorgeous white polka-dotted dress with brown trim and a fabulous Robin’s egg blue slip that occasionally made an appearance as she spun. She came onto the stage slithering smoothly sideways, her upper body motionless while only her feet moved her. At one point she matched so exactly her movement to the sound of the guitars that my mouth was hanging open. I enjoy flamenco so much because of the improvisational nature of what goes on and how the musicians and the dancers are actually riffing off of each other, but the way she just captured a sound so perfectly with her body (a turn and the lift of her arm over her head) left me wordless (hear the “ole”). Then she did it again, a different movement and a new guitar riff blending seamlessly into one work of art. Wow!

Merche Esmeralda was a great embodiment of flamenco. For her big solo, she appeared in a long-skirted white dress, looking a bit like a mad Miss Havisham (what with the ruffles and sequins on the dress) stalking across the stage. She took her time working her way into the dance and the music, but by the end, with her gorgeous hand movements, she was able to capture the energy of six musicians in one turn of her wrist. I was really impressed with her energy and enthusiasm – she clearly so much loves dance and was absolutely in the moment, showing no sign of the burnout other performers have after that many years in the field. She was really La Maestra and completely sucked me in with her regal bearing.

Finally we get to Rocio Molina, whose shorter stature and round face made her look very much like the baby of the group. But with so much youth I expected pyrotechnics, and she most certainly delivered. She carried castatets for her first appearance on stage, and she played them so fast I found it hard to believe she was doing it with her fingers. She returned for her solo in a black dress that was really unique, with a sort of sequinned shawl framing the open back, and circles cut out of the back of the skirt to show of the white petticoat beneath. As the tension built in her dance, she increased the speed of her footwork until it sounded like machine gun fire echoing off the stage, and then spun so fast and wildly that she looked like a cat getting into a fight with herself. Eventually the singers came out from behind their screens and she danced for and with them, creating a fantastic synergy of dance and voice that was extremely energizing to watch.

The evening ended with all three dancers again together on stage, each wearing a dress with a long train, in complementary colors of white (red trim), red, and red plaid. They seemed to have no ego problems (like I might expect) but instead danced and played and improved and just seemed to be having a really good time, going wild with their skirts, laughing and showing off. As they ended the show, I was standing on my seat, clapping, with tears running down my eyes – all of their energy just got me so excited and I loved it! (It’s actually a bit embarassing how much I liked it, if you normally read this blog you’ll have to forgive me for being such a pathetic fan girl.) It was a really great evening and I felt lucky to have had an opportunity to see three excellent dancers in my home town.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, March 16th, 2009.)

Review – Estrella Morente – Sadler’s Wells 2009 Flamenco Festival

March 15, 2009

Last night I went to Sadler’s Wells to see Estrella Morente perform. She was accompanied by two guitarists and three singers (two female and one male) who, of course, also clapped, stamped, and snapped their fingers as the mood warranted. It started with her dressed in what looked to me like an equestrienne costume, with a black shortish jacket, a string tie, and tight pants. With her hair pulled back, she was a sight to behold – beautiful, focused on the music, and, to me, the epitome of Flamenco. She encouraged the guitarists with “Ole!”s and sang spiritedly. Her hands seemed to communicate the words of her songs, which, sadly, I wasn’t usually able to follow along with – just a few words I didn’t understand or one which the vocalizations broke in a way I wasn’t expecting and I just got totally lost. A real incentive to improve my Spanish, this woman is.

A brief pause, though: my enjoyment of this evening was SERIOUSLY hampered by the people sitting next to me, who seemed to feel that they could not WAIT to check their text messages until the show was over – or even to wait until the pause between songs. And the one who took a flash photo – SERIOUSLY! We were inside and this was completely inexcusable (not to mention illegal in most venues). I was about to grab his phone and throw it down the aisle or into the orchestra pit. The glare was really impressive. At least the girl sitting next to me, who couldn’t seem to wean herself off of Facebook, had the decency to try to keep her phone in her bag so as to reduce the quantity of light she was emitting. I was, however, appalled.

The guitarists both did some solos, and I thought the younger one seemed frustrated in a kind of competition with the older one – such a beautiful woman, if only I could be more skilled, she would pay more attention to me! But perhaps that was just me imposing something that wasn’t happening on the evening. At one point in the middle she disappeared, and was replaced about ten minutes later by a sensuous beauty with tousled hair in an off-the-shoulder black dress with a purple and green shawl wrapped around her. She looked like she’d just got out of bed after a particularly good night. I thought maybe we were going to get some dancing, but … those eyes … those cheekbones … my God, it was Ms. Morente again, looking like a goddess! (I was thinking Keira Knightly in Pirates of the Carribbean would have been meant to look as lush as this.) Now she stood as she sang, occasionally using her shawl for emphasis, singing of birds and skies and rivers running dry and sad memories, and with what little I understood I felt like my heart was breaking listening to her recounting the ways in which life seems to serve only to disappoint.

At the end she sang a song that most of the audience seemed to know (with lyrics about Miami, Londra, etc.) that had her getting the crowd to sing along (and one man in front of me to use her mike – he seemed to explode with excitement and, truth be told, did not have a bad voice), then did an a capella song with her three accompanying singers – which provided a nice chance to hear the gentleman sing (I could imagine spending a lovely night at a bar just letting him tell me the story of his life in song). There was no encore after the last song wrapped up, but with such a glorious evening, it seemed we were best to walk out, floating, on the high she’d created.

(This review is for a sold-out performance that took place Saturday, March 14th, 2009. It’s a bit difficult to review the show as there was no set list and no list of musicians, so pardon the lack of detail! For a review of a show that was probably about the same as this one, see the Miami Herald.)

Flamenco Festival starts at Sadler’s Wells (and comments on the Birds Eye silent Vamps series)

March 13, 2009

Now that my week of Vamps in Silent Film has wrapped up (Salome, The Vampire, A Fool There Was, Alraune), I’m moving on to Flamenco at Sadler’s Wells. I’ve got three shows in the next 8 days – Estrella Morente (Saturday), the Mujeres gala (Monday March 16), and the Flamenco Carmen on Friday the 20th. I’m pretty excited about it – just got my email about Mujeres, and it will be 90 minutes of non-stop, toe (and heel) tapping madness! Anyway, the reviews will start filtering in soon – expect to hear about Senora Morente on Sunday.

Some comments on the silent movies I watched: I think I’ve pretty well decided I don’t care for pre-20s era silents. Alraune had good cinematography and a reasonable plot (as a sort of SF/horror movie, I saw it as being a sort of Victorian version of Blade Runner), but A Fool There Was (1915) and The Vampire (1913) were just a big mess, lacking coherence and difficult to watch.

However, I have a bigger complaint to make about the music that was presented alongside these movies. Jane Gardner’s piano score for The Vampire was okay, but Alison Blunt’s hodgepodge of random noise that accompanied Alraune made me wish it was truly a silent movie. Do these people not go to the trouble to examine the music that might have originally been made for the film, or consider how to do sound effects to enhance the experience? Blunt even missed out on a brilliant opportunity to illustrate the music the band was playing in a flapper dance scene.

I realize that my years of watching Dennis James at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre may have spoiled me a bit, but the man knows the genre inside and out. I’ve also seen The Asylum Street Spankers and Aono Jikken perform new, original silent soundtracks in a way that enhance the viewing experience. What does it take to get people to understand you can’t just noodle your way through a movie and not come off looking like a self-indulgent ass? I’ll say this much about Bishi’s performance in accompaniment to Salome: it wasn’t just original, it made watching the movie better. (Sure, the effect was to turn it into a giant music video for me, but this worked because the flick itself was so OTT.) That said, there’s no excuse for not having good music with silents. Can someone come over here and teach people how to do it right? I salute the Birds Eye film festival for investing the money in having new music created for these films, but I wish it had been done in a way that created something that could follow the movie around forever, rather than being so disposable.