Posts Tagged ‘flamenco’

Review – Olga Pericet – 2012 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival

February 11, 2012

To break in this year’s Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells, I scheduled a visit for the one night Olga Pericet was to grace the stage. I didn’t know who she was, but how much the better to see a new face than just to relive the pleasures of the familiar!

The show started with a barefooted woman in a frilled skirt sat uncomfortably on a chair at the front left of the stage, her knees and arms raised, looking very much like a doll with limbs akimbo. As the music started, she eventually began spinning her hands in the swirls I associate with beautiful guitar runs, little circles of musicality that eventually were also taken up by her feet.

Then a black garbed man approached her and began to move her around to the music, making her seem more Copellia-like than ever. He held her up by the shoulders so she could do amazingly fast entrechats – her feet a blur in the air – then tossed her over his shoulders as if she had no genius of her own at all. He was caring, though, very much seeming a Dr Coppelius (or Pygmalion) in love with his porcelain creation.

Next we moved into some guitar and singing – lovely – and “the doll” appeared (now clearly to me Olga and not another dancer, but still stunningly petite in comparison to the six or so men singing, clapping, and playing guitar behind her). Dressed in red with a buff floral shawl wrapped around her, she looked both all joy and all business. The dance, though, seemed very much designed to show off mastery of shawl-work, with every move in the book (wrapping the ends around the wrists, swirling it around the body, tossing an end around the shoulder just so) done as if checking off a list. This was to the expense of showing better emotional connection to the music or (nearly entirely) good footwork – it seemed workmanlike to me and lacking in spirit. Except – there was one movement fairly early on where the fringe, as it flew out around her wrists, suddenly reminded me of the feathers of a fighting bantam rooster. At the end she went for showing off her dancing more, and I felt her and her accompanists working together, but otherwise this section left me a bit dry.

Without notes, I can’t provide a complete order of events, but the modern dancer returned a lot, and I feel between his dancing and the low key scenery (two curtains), we were given a well-designed, satisfying evening. His final turn came when Olga returned in a sparkly, black bata de cola dress, the long train somehow looking like the hood of a cobra. And the man danced like a character from some Almodovar movie who had become obsessed with a flamenquera, worshipping her skirt and every bit of flamenco about her, while being entirely unaware of the human being beneath the dress.

He disappeared and Ms Pericet got on with the important business of the evening, dancing with this long and heavy lump of fabric following her everywhere. Again, I felt like she was working through a lot of display of technique without doing enough dance; a problem as it should not be the props driving the dancer.

This said, I still feel like Ms Pericet came of as a dancer of considerable charisma, at her best in the middle section with a short dress and nothing more than her own moves to show off. She has to step away from her props and let her own music drive the dance; but with her good sensibility as a creator of an evening of performance and her innate skills as a dancer, I feel certain she will be well worth seeing dance in the future.

Review – Israel Galvan – Sadler’s Wells 2011 Flamenco Festival

February 10, 2011

“Bonito!” “Maravilloso!” The praise was being shouted loudly last night by the flamenco fans at Israel Galvan’s performance at the Sadler’s Wells 2011 Flamenco Festival. The volume and frequency of the exclamations said to me that this was one the aficionados had picked up on; it sounded like I was in Spain, as normally the only words of encouragement at a Sadlers Wells flamenco show come from the various performers on stage. But Galvan’s reputation had preceded him and the house was packed with people who wanted to see fantastic flamenco, and they got what they came for.

It’s hard for me to describe what happened last night, as I lack words and to be perfectly honest was far more interested in watching what was going on rather than trying to scribble everything down. The show was stripped to the bare minimum; just two accompanists (a singer and a guitarist, both men, both dressed in black) and the dancer, who eschewed flamboyance in favor of a dark green shirt rolled up to the elbows, soft black pants and black shoes. He traced a line on the stage with his toe, emphasing the musical nature of what he was about to do (and the fact the stage was miked). Then he launched into the most intense, pure, performance of male flamenco I have ever seen, totally one with his singer and guitarist, becoming one, the three of them, with the music they were all creating. His movements went far beyond the usual macho posing; he showed humor, he spun and tapped his toes as he went, he held his fingers behind his head as if creating a comb for a mantilla. He thrust his chest in and out, he lifted his shirt and yanked on its hem, he slapped his chest and his shoes (ever aware of the music he was making with his body), he played his teeth with his fingernails. At one point, it seemed like he was telling the entire story of an invasion of a town by opposing armies entirely with his dancing.

I am constantly amused by the ego I see on stage in flamenco, especially with men; and I want to say that this was about dance and not “Behold, I am Israel Galvan, bow before me o ye lesser mortals.” It wasn’t like that, but I can’t say it was egoless, though; Galvan was wholly himself, one with his music and the performance, utterly aware of himself and his body at all time, but seemingly driven by a vision of perfection, a vision he was capable of executing as he whipped around so fast his feet were a blur. He let his accompanists play their parts while he faded into the background or accompanied him, not appearing to be “condescending” but to be part of creating a perfect flamenco performance. At the end, they all changed roles for a bit, Galvan singing while the guitarist (Alfredo Lagos) strutted a bit on stage, then deliberately teased him by tapping his teeth with his fingernails. Then they switched again, with the singer (David Lagos) dancing very tentatively while Galvan mimed the guitar and the guitarist sang a bit and laughed. After so long and so intense an evening, we were ready for comedy and lightness, and after so many years of seeing men past their prime dominate other people on stage, I was ready for the joy of a performer who was both tops in his class and a gentleman to boot. Israel Galvan, you have set a standard not just for the 2011 Sadler’s Wells flamenco festival, but for every male bailador I shall ever see again.

(This review is for a one-off performance that took place on Wednesday, February 9th, 2011. The Flamenco festival continues through February 19th. For my joy expressed more elegantly, please see Clement Crisp’s review in the Financial Times.)

Half price deal on Flamenco – Ballet Nacional de Espana at London Coliseum

April 12, 2010

Great deal in today’s metro for half price on tickets for April 28, 29, and 30 at the London Coliseum for Ballet nacional de Espana. To book, call the colseum at 0871 472 0800 and quote “Metro Offer” or book on line at and use promo code ESPMET. The show is 27 April through May 2nd but the deal is only good for the days listed, and gets £55 tickets to £27.50 and £40 tickets to £20. Offer ends April 20 so hurry!

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

February 25, 2010

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!)

Review – Lluvia – Eva Yerbabuena, Sadler’s Wells’ Flamenco Festival 2010

February 20, 2010

Lluvia, Eva Yerbabuena’s contribution to the 2010 Sadler’s Wells’ Flamenco Festival, was a breath of fresh air after the macho posturings of Nuevo Ballet Espanol. The style was also completely different: it was modern flamenco, with plenty of heel and toe work, but a focus on expressiveness, storytelling, and “pure” dance (of a sort that frequently reminded me of Martha Graham).

We started off with a crowd of people standing in front of a brick wall, and then moved into a scene which was mostly a duet with Eva (I assume) and a tall, slim male dancer (Eduardo Guerrerro). This made me laugh a bit because she started, then he would move in front of her and block her from the audience’s view. Finally, they did a great bit where both of their arms were moving together and it became less of a power struggle, but what I liked is that it was clear that this time, for this performance, it was not going to be about the woman standing in the man’s shadow. It built into a long dance involving a table through which Eva and Eduardo were reaching for each other (it all seemed to be about having a broken heart) which had very little flamenco styling and a lot of modern dance and _lots_ of good music, thoroughly erasing Ballet Nuevo and its cheesy touristic production from my mind.

The most fun of the evening was a long section in which the four supporting dancers (Mercedes de Cordoba, Lorena Franco, Fernando Jimenez, and Eduardo) and Eva “found” a trunk full of costumes, which led to everyone putting on fun, pastelly 20’s style dances and just kind of jamming out to the singers and musicians, who were mostly gathered around a big wooden table. Eduardo played with fans, Eva stole roses, the whole thing was very lighthearted but led to a fantastic solo by Mr. Guerrerro that had the house roaring. He drew circles in the air with his hands, he shook his shoulders, he played with flicking his jacket off, he was NOT just about fancy footwork, he was totally centering the energies of the four singers surrounding him. It didn’t even feel like the piece was “about” him, he was just having a good time dancing, and the energy really carried.

The final piece had Eva wearing a gorgeous black dress with a ruffled skirt trailing behind it and rhinestones up the side, a truly amazing outfit that had her looking like a Spanish Odile – I could have easily have imagined it covered with feathers! She showed a real expertise at what I imagine to be a very difficult Flamenco style – the skirt really gets in the way, frequently forcing the dancer to stay in one position, and motion requires constant attention to moving the train of the skirt. But she was able to flick it around like a kitten with a ball of string. She stood and arched and worked her hands because she wanted to, because she wanted to make a beautiful image with her skirt curling behind her, and when she wanted to move or change direction, the tiny kick to move it was as unnoticable as a flick of her fingers. But she also understood how to make the dress work with the dance, at one point kicking it off to the left and then turning herself to the right so it wrapped around her ankles like waves around a rock.

Eva really gave it all to this long solo and I felt it showed off her skills and personality tremendously. It also emphasized to me the overall superior artistic merit of her “backing band” – I believe that they, and the dancers working with her, felt that to be in this ensemble meant working at a high level of artistry, one they could feel proud being a part of. Enrique El Extremeno, Pepe de Pura, Jeromo Segura and Jose Valencia sang so well that they made me wish I could have bought a CD just to enjoy their great voices. I think Eva wore herself out during her long solo – there was a break at one point, and when she started again, she wasn’t able to recapture the fire. But it was the end of a long evening and I felt it was only fair for her to be tired. I had certainly enjoyed myself – the fresh choreography, great flamenco, and high spirits of this group were well worth watching.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 18th, 2010 – the final performance of this group. The Sadler’s Wells 2010 Flamenco Festival continues through February 27th.)

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.)

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.

Review – Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras – “Sabores” – Sadler’s Wells

July 11, 2008

When Booklectic and I (and others) went to Barcelona two months ago, we debated going to see a “Tablao de Flamenco” at the Poble Espanol, but were put off by the price (55 euros) and the fear of being stuck in a tourist trap. Me, well, I’ve seen what I consider to be some very fine flamenco, starting at the Barcelona flamenco bienalle of 2002, and I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing bad dance, so when Booklectic and I were thinking of fun things to do this summer, I said, “Hey, why don’t we finally see some flamenco at Sadler’s Wells? It’s pretty much guaranteed to be really good …”

Sara Baras in no way let me down. “Sabores” presented a variety of Flamenco styles, danced by her and her troupe of nine (or so) with seven musicians/singers accompanying. I am, alas, uneducated when it comes to the different styles, but what I saw was a variety of group unison dancing (which was reminding me a bit of Riverdance) and brilliant solos, two of which were performed by the ace male flamencos she had brought with her. (I’ll fill in the details when I have the program to refer to.) One of them did a dance with castanets – I found myself hanging on every percussive beat he was making – practically eating out of his hands! – while the other dressed in more of a caballero style, including with a hat and tan boots.

Baras herself carried much of the evening, and she does really have scintillating footwork, but also a strong dramatic presence. She is exactly what I expect of a flamenca – regal, straight-backed, serious, and sexy as all get out. She seemed to lean toward what seemed to me to be a more modern style, one that I think is suited to her personal aesthetic. There was a serious lack of red lipstick, haircombs, and big bangles or earrings on the women of the troupe. I did find it a bit sad that there was no dance done with the really long trailing skirt that the women whip around them, as I find it really hypnotizing and a great dance to watch – but instead, we got Baras in a black top with leather chaps on, WOW! In front it looked like (and moved like) a skirt, but in the back it showed off her strong legs.

The audience at Sadler’s Wells was very appreciative, starting out with some “Ole!”s, then moving to “Guapo!” when the men were dancing. Three quarters of the way in, they were just talking to the stage, mostly in Spanish, and the dancers were preening and parading and looking prouder and more excited and even occasionally talking back to the audience. The energy was really good. The musicians were clearly paying attention to every bit of what the dancers were doing, and even though quite a bit of it was stiff choreographed unison dancing (which I have never felt was very flamenco), there was still a lot of improv going on. The final hoedown was perhaps not as good as it could have been, if it was planned and not just a spontaneous reaction to the crowd’s enthusiasm – personally, I wanted to see the many corps dancers get their moment in the sun, since they barely seemed to have any solo work at all over the course of the entire evening. Overall, though, it was a not large complaint to make for what I found to be a very enjoyable evening.

A much bigger complaint: our dinner beforehand was at a restaurant called Tortilla and while their burritos are fine and their frozen margaritas most tasty, their tacos are an absolute disgrace. Even though they’d “double-bagged” them (two tortillas) and they actually used proper corn tortillas, all four of the tacos my husband and I ordered completely disintegrated before the third bite, the contents falling out of the bottom of the split and flaking “shell.” I know these were “soft” or street-style tacos, but in all my years of ordering off of taco trucks I’ve never seen such a shameful performance. Never again!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, July 10th.)