Review: Ballet Nacional de Espana in Dualia / Romance de Luna / La Leyenda at London Coliseum

Performance: 27 April - 2 May 2010
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 29 April 2010

Ballet Nacional de Espana, 27 April - 2 May, The London Coliseum, Photo: Jesus Robisco

Reviewed: 27 April 2010

London has been well acquainted with flamenco recently, with the Festival at Sadler’s Wells showcasing both new and established artists and the incomparable Sara Baras lighting up the Royal Albert Hall with her greatest hits. London also has a long familiarity with Spanish ballet dancers (five of whom dance with the Royal Ballet) but the capital rarely encounters classical Spanish dance – a hybrid fusion of flamenco, escuela bolera (from the eighteenth century), castanets, ballet and a multitude of regional folk dances. These traditional dance forms have held such sway in Spain that classical ballet has not gained a national school of its own (although that may soon change). Incidentally, to avoid confusion, the foremost word in Ballet Nacional de Espana’s title simply means ‘dance company’.

Since 2004, under Jose Antonio’s second period of leadership, BNE has bounced back from troubled times and, on the evidence of this performance, seems now to be in a position of great strength. This mixed bill opened with a modern work, Dualia, created by Ángel Rojas and Carlos Rodriguez (joint directors of the Nuevo Ballet Español and rapidly rising stars of the Spanish dance firmament). Their creation for BNE is a silky-smooth flow of dance episodes, diminished only by being performed to recorded music. It’s a shame that dancers of such extraordinary virtuosity cannot always have the courtesy of – or the budget for – live musicians.

The seamless transitions between the dances were always effective, each episode melting into the next with groups of dancers coming forward from a darkened back stage or through other cleverly disguised entrances. The 21-strong corps de ballet – wearing individual variations on themed costumes (black and white for the men and creamy coffee for the women) – was always tightly co-ordinated and the punctuating solos, duets and trios were danced with skill, subtlety and passion, but always appearing as emphatic accents to the overall group dynamic.

Antonio has long wished to work with the great ballerina Tamara Rojo, but diary clashes have always ruled it out. This mini London season allows for just three performances of Romance de Luna, a work that Antonio made for himself to dance with Natalia Makarova at the Mariinsky Theatre some 20 years ago. Here, Rojo was partnered by Miguel Corbacho who impressed with his bravura technique of fast, controlled pirouettes, impeccable footwork and imperious carriage. Rojo projected ethereal, gossamer qualities of elegant smoothness, unhindered by the transition from pointe shoes to high heels. But, it must be said that while this romantic moon might comfortably fill a gala slot, it is too slight and unmemorable to have any lasting impact. The first half was also optically challenging with a predilection for dark blue down lighting which made recognition of any facial expressions impossible.

The programme closed with Antonio’s love letter to Carmen Amaya, the diminutive flamenco dancer who died in 1963, aged just 50. Appropriately entitled La Leyenda, this brought flamenco to the fore, with Amaya such a hard act to interpret that it takes two principals to represent the Spanish “Pavlova”: the tiny, white-suited Cristina Gomez nailing an approximation of Amaya’s scintillating virtuosity with pulsating, shimmering ‘tacaneo’ (footwork); a more traditional romantic elegance was portrayed by Elena Algado in a long ruffled red dress. An epilogue – missed by many hastily departing critics – extended a long work but provided an effective encore to reintroduce the whole ensemble. La Leyenda was greatly enhanced and elevated by the skilful integration of singers, guitarists and dancers (the ‘cuadro‘) which made the earlier absence of live music all the more regrettable.

Spanish dance is often accompanied by ‘jaleo’ – a noun with no direct translation into English, which means the utterances of approval and encouragement for the living force of the dance. This babble of vocal appreciation enlivens flamenco performances but seems rather odd, in a conventionally conservative British way, when it is a non-stop barrage of exclamations from just a single person. I kept thinking there was an argument somewhere in the First Circle. Much more appropriate was the raucous standing ovation that this outstanding company received at the end of a long and satisfying night.

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