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Flash Review 1, 2-8: Long Train Running
Maya & Martin Wrap it Up

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2005 Josephine Leask

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LONDON -- Marking the end of London's Flamenco Festival, held at Sadler's Wells, "Flamenco de Camara" was certainly a finale which brought the house down. This women-powered double-act of singer/musical director Mayte Martin and dancer/choreographer Belen Maya was joined by two outstanding guitarists, Juan Ramon Caro and Jose Luis Monton, a violinist, Olvido Lanza, and two feisty clappers, Sara Barrero and Susana Medina to make up an impressive chamber group. Seen January 30, they presented a program of nine different flamenco pieces, some performed by the entire group, some solos for the cante and others solos for the other musicians. "Flamenco de Camara," which means "chamber flamenco," focuses on the intense relationship between music and dance within flamenco, exploring them as if they were a pair of lovers or friends who are symbiotically linked even though they possess such different characters. The series of dialogues -- whether between guitars and violin or singer and dancer -- are highly expressive and emotional and seem to delve deep into the very essence of what flamenco is.

Often in flamenco, the dancer personifies the woman and the singer the man, and they enact a game of conquest and submission which is all too predictably charged with melodramatic lashings of sexual tension. However, with Martin and Maya some of the more commercial and stereotypical passions as well as the inflated egos that are flaunted by many flamenco performers are replaced by modesty, deep mutual respect and understanding. Arriving on a journey from their own personal artistic positions, they join forces rather than battling each other into submission, but still exude plenty of passion and emotion in the process. This is flamenco without its macho baggage, and as a result is highly sophisticated and elegant. I couldn't help thinking that the reason for this more refined interpretation of the flamenco experience was because "Flamenco de Camara" was a women-directed, women-performed show, apart from the two male guitarists.

Martin and Maya each have a profoundly strong stage presence but not one that overshadows the other musicians, because they work very much as a team. Whenever they perform together it is mesmerizing. Each seems to bring something new and subtle to her particular craft; with Maya it is frequent stooping movements and changes in level, while with Martin it is complex rhythms. There are moments when they both seem to be improvising around what the other one is doing, so the result is refreshingly experimental. While Maya dances with incredible virtuosity, it is never showy; she never abandons integrity for instant gratification of her audience, which is consequently left wanting more and more. Even when she dances slower, quieter pieces she still exudes a charisma which is much more about her skill as an artist than her ego.

When they first appear onstage, Maya is dressed in a white, long-trained traditional flamenco gown, Martin in a black suit. They look like a couple getting married. Maya is so focused on Martin that initially the audience doesn't get a look in, but they need to establish their intense relationship before she projects her performance outwards. Much of Maya's choreography is influenced by skillful management of the flouncing yards of material on her dress. It seems so cumbersome, yet she uses it imaginatively as a prop for her dancing. She displays her magnetic force over Martin by ensnaring her, wrapping the material round the singer's feet whenever she tries to walk away.

One of the most awesome pieces is one which has a very celebratory feel and is performed by the whole group. Maya is adorned in vivid yellow, again wearing a dress with an impossibly long train. She really dominates this act with her exuberant stamping, her bull-like charging movements, her clapping, and her wild experimentation with tricky rhythms as she visually interprets the music. She prolongs the act with her incredible stamina and energy. The audience holds its breath and just when we think it's no longer possible for her to continue, she explodes in another flurry of movement.

This is spectacular flamenco. Both the dancing and the music compliment each other and Maya and Martin seem to have forged a new direction within the genre of flamenco. One that is more experimental, that is pared down uncluttered by arrogance, tricks and cliche and consequently far more effective at expressing the vivid colors and subtle textures of flamenco.

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