Dance Insider Directory
featured photo

Flash Reviews
Go Home

Olga Pericet and partner in Pericet's "Rosa, Metal, Ceniz." Photo courtesy Sadler's Wells and ©Javier Fergo.

Copyright 2012 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- What Miguel Marin's Flamenco Festival brings to London is a generous taster of the diversity within the Flamenco world. This year at Sadler's Wells I saw three companies, whom, while united in their skill, each presented very different programs which paid tribute to the heritage of Flamenco as well as pioneering new and adventurous choreography. Rafael Amargo's work was showy and infused with Broadway gloss, Olga Pericet's contained and experimental and Antonio Gades Company's contribution subtle and traditional.

Olga Pericet is a rising talent from Cordoba, who made her debut as a choreographer at this year's festival, held February 7 - 19. A small but dynamic force, Pericet performs with her male entourage, although it is interesting to note that there is one female guitarist, Antonia Jimenez. Traditionally in Flamenco, singers are comprised of men and women, but it is very unusual to see a female guitarist and a welcome addition to the somewhat macho territory. Pericet's relationship with each member of the company is one full of chemistry and vitality. Not only are they there to make her look good, but to show off what they can do as well. The male dancers, Jesus Fernandez and Paco Villalta, are both as accomplished in contemporary dance styles as they are in Flamenco, like her, but it is Pericet who holds the magnetic force. In "Rosa, Metal, Ceniz" (Rose, Metal, Ash), seen February 10, Pericet explores identity through the lens of the various phases of her own life. The first segment, "Rosa," is full of color and light, a duet between Pericet and Fernandez in a contemporary ballet style: wide-plié leg positions and back bending, battement tendus, leaps and lifts. Youth is suggested through the athletic jumps and short, colourful tutu- flamenco dress, while a budding romance is evoked through the woman's purring castanets and close contact with her partner. Soft guitar music accompanies some bold and innovative movement.

In the following section, "Metal," Pericet displays her virtuosic flamenco technique, dancing with a shawl which she whirls around her body, enveloping herself with it and then flinging it away. Here she dances alone, having dispensed with her male admirer, independent and angrier in her actions. With many dramatic exits and entrances, she barely acknowledges a shadowy man (a rejected lover), who makes frequent subtle appearances behind the fringed curtain which separates them. Now surrounded by three vocalists and the guitarists, she really delves deep into the flamenco stamping and continuous fast turns, slowing down, arching back, then quickly flipping her body round. Pericet's head whips from side to side so vigorously that hair clips fly out from her hair. She uses her arms like weapons as they windmill round, or flicks her wrists dismissively. While appearing wild and dramatic she is also contained and performs every step with integrity. Her compelling rendition, a mixture of joy and anger, is matched by the raucous and piercing intonation of the singers. Both music and dance reach a fever pitch and as I feel my body tense with concentration.

The suspense only breaks when Pericet is unexpectedly whisked off stage by the love-sick man who's been lurking behind the curtain. When she reappears after a musical interlude for the final segment of the dance, she is sensationally black and sparkly in full flamenco dress with a long train which she elegantly drags behind her. There is something serpentine about the way she steps slowly and negotiates the overwhelming material. She is like a Spanish dowager in mourning, the pathos of "Ceniz" reflective and melancholic. However, with the help of her musicians, she rises to a stamping, arm-thrashing crescendo once again. Tossing her long skirts to one side or hitching them up impatiently she charges at the movement, already having won the battle in the complex maneuvering of her dress. Pericet's show is tightly directed and efficiently delivered. She possesses that tension which makes flamenco such a captivating spectacle: the ability to lose control within a rigorous framework of technical artistry. While less flamboyant than the older generation of Flamenco divas, Pericet is nevertheless beguilingly seductive.

The Antonio Gades company in Gades's "Fuenteovejuna." Javier del Real photo courtesy Sadler's Wells.

Rafael Amargo's style stands in sharp contrast to Pericet's in that he is a brazen show-off. Amargo's "Poet in New York" is much more of a flashy musical theater extravaganza than "Rosa, Metal, Ceniz." When I watched "Poet in New York" on February 17, it started late, contained pregnant pauses between acts and could have used some sensible editing. Where Pericet was efficient in her delivery, Amargo is self-indulgent; he gets carried away, and his show, which consists of a series of sprawling acts, lacks structure and directing. However there are many inventive and successful ingredients in "Poet in New York," which is based on Federico Garcia Lorca's poems about the Spanish poet's experiences in the Big Apple during the 1920s. As this year marks the 75th anniversary of his death, it is a fitting tribute, substantiated with attempts to capture the vividly surreal texture of Lorca's writing. Short film collages accompany the narration (in voice-over) of each poem, which in turn introduce the dance sections. With my rusty Spanish and in the absence of any translation I frequently failed to see the connections between the poetry and the visual content but it did add another layer of intriguing complexity. While some of the film clips could have been fragments from the bizarre and surreal cinema of Louis Bunuel, others verged on the cheesy and included clips of Depression-ridden New York, extracts from Broadway shows, and flashes of presidents and of Hollywood celebrities. The two most arresting film extracts, shot in black and white, included a close-up of flamenco shoes stamping on the floor, worn out through use, and a pair of Spanish women, dressed like religious icons, agonizingly twisting rosary beads through their fingers as they uttered confessions. The simpler the image the stronger was the impact, which was also true for some of the choreographic material.

Inspired by other dance styles which he learned when he himself spent time in New York, Amargo fuses traditional flamenco with modern dance and jazz. While his cast of dancers are strong in their modern techniques, the more convincing sections are those which contain a purer flamenco dance style and music. These 'contemporary' sections, while danced with lightness and fluidity, are bland and unremarkable in comparison with the complex, emotive components of flamenco. For example, in "Escape from New York," the dancers depict a down-beat, homesick group of Spaniards gathered together on the shabby streets of the city during the Depression. Drowning their sorrows in music and dance, they perform heartfelt flamenco. And let rip.

Exuding machismo and brimming over with egotism, Amargo positions himself in the center of his company but nevertheless still allows the other performers a chance to shine. The opening act displays him in a white tuxedo, dancing on a table. We can see his versatility as a flamenco dancer; his style is much looser than Pericet's, and he's full of gestures and crowd-pleasing tricks. Sometimes when it's his turn to dance, he just won't get off the stage -- which is thrilling if you're in an intimate Andalusian bar with wine to drink and no time constraints, but less magical in a London theater. Amargo's longest solo, which happens near the end of the evening, is impressive: his stamina, charm and conversational footwork are winners, but when he begins lifting his shirt up and teasing the audience, it is too much. Now he is the Spanish football star rather than the virtuosic flamenco dancer. Although he dilutes the impact of Lorca's poetry, by crowding "Poet in New York" with too many distractions, he certainly knows how to entertain.

Seen February 15, the Antonio Gades Company, directed by Stella Arauzo, performed a traditional flamenco ballet, steeped in Spanish folklore and inspired by a social-political event, dating back to the 16th century. "Fuenteovejuna," the name of the ballet and the story by Lope de Vega, is about the unified fight of a community in Southern Spain against its cruel despot. The choreography, which is that of the late Gades -- perhaps best-known internationally as the choreographer and star of Carlos Maura's classic film "Carmen" -- is more restrained and subdued than that of either of the above artists. Gades's love of Spanish folk dance, a milder form of flamenco, and his use of this language as well as song and music to tell a story is central to "Fuenteovejuna." The company, which consists of multi-generational performers who are all as competent singers as they are dancers, still retains the legacy of what made Gades so important with ballets like "Carmen" and "Bodas de Sangre": the use of ritualistic imagery, slow dramatic climaxes in the action and fleshy story-telling.

A long wedding section follows, in which partnered traditional folk dance is performed by the peasant villagers on simple wooden stage sets, suggesting bucolic scenes. Traditional 15th-century costumes of muted colors are worn in keeping with the rustic themes. The performers convey the ritualistic symbols of marriage, the women washing the white sheets for the newlyweds and the male dancers performing solos for the bride, throwing flowers at her -- all elements that recall the primitivism of Nijinska's "Les Noces." While the ballet contains a rape scene and a murder, the depiction of both is very understated. Gades doesn't sensationalise any aspects of the story through melodramatic movements or imagery. Uncluttered choreography carries the action. As a lecherous comendador has his evil way with the young bride after abducting her on her wedding night, the scene is tantalizingly suspended in frozen poses and juxtaposed with a parallel scene in which the villagers plot his murder. The pacing of the show is slow and dignified. Each member of the company, with commitment and energy, plays a fundamental role in the vivid re-creation of this moving story. "Fuenteovejuna" is the result of successful team effort. There are no egocentric show-offs here.

Flash Reviews
Go Home