Review: Farruquito - Abolengo - Flamenco Festival London - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 17 March 2013
Reviewed by Donald Hutera - Tuesday 19 March 2013

Farruquito. Photo: Sophie Muhlenburg

Eva Yerbabuena kicked off the tenth anniversary edition of Flamenco Festival London with the world premiere of !Ay! . The reason for mentioning this – apart from the fact that it was a stunningly spare solo show, and already a highlight of the year – is how high Yerbabuena set the bar for all the dance artists who are scheduled to perform at the festival in her wake.

This includes Farruquito. Son of a singer and a dancer, and heir to a school located in Seville that his grandfather founded, this young (30) and, on home turf, hugely popular legend-in-the-making made his international debut at the age of five. Abolengo, the title of the production brought to Sadler’s Wells, translates from the Spanish as ‘ancestry’ or ‘lineage.’ The word might seem a facile catch-all for the content and intent of this one-off performance, but it undeniably signalled that we were in the presence of flamenco puro. Farruquito is its embodiment – not the only one, of course. Others honour tradition yet recognise the need to keep flamenco alive by moving it forward perhaps in more radical and quite consciously contemporary ways. [See Rocio Molina and, especially, Israel Galvan who will present work at the Wells on, respectively, March 19 and 24.]

Co-choreographed with the seasoned dancer Antonio Canales [who is performing in the Gala programme March 25-27], Abolengo is built somewhat loosely round Farruquito’s fiery and celebrated talent. This hot-footed fellow isn’t a stage hog, instead functioning on the principle of relatively brief appearances that spotlight him without sidelining the contributions of the small ensemble of singers and musicians and fellow dancer Karime Amaya. Most had their moments and, in the case of Amaya, something unexpectedly greater than that.

Played to a gratifyingly packed and responsive house, the show started about ten minutes late – as if operating on Spanish time, maybe? Leaning back in a rocking chair centre stage, the tiny but powerful vocalist Encarnita Anillo launched the evening with an emotive song that also introduced to us Farruquito and Amaya, elegant in black-trimmed creamy gold garb as they engaged in a quick, pepper-heeled ‘dialogue.’ It’s worth noting here the evocative, melismatic rivulets of pain running through Anillo’s throat. The show segued into a series of dancing solos and musical interludes, the best of the latter being that of the guitarist Romain Vicenti who provided a bit of heaven for the ear. There was also strong singing from Antonio Vilar, gifted with a typically piercing flamenco voice, and a big fellow named El Zambullo whose own voice could just about blast through stone.

Long-haired Farruquito’s first solo found him clad in a white suit and doing his best to electrify the crowd with his cock-of-the-walk manner and a hand-on-heart energy. It was interesting here and elsewhere to note how attentive the singers and musicians were to this star dancer, waiting for him to set a rhythm that he could truly feel. In another solo he wore a clashing frilly-fronted tuxedo shirt and a polka-dotted waistcoat, kicking and stamping out beats with brio. Farruquito’s healthy male ego is often apparent, although he’s blessedly free of the sort of nauseating narcissism that destroys the pleasure one could conceivably take in the dancing of Joaquin Cortes. At times he seemed to be challenging us to resist him – as if saying, ‘How could you when you know what a charmer I am, right?’ A small part of him wants and needs our approval.

Farruquito saved his biggest ‘tricks’ for his last, pre-encore appearance in glossy black shoes and a sleek grey suit. During it he stepped fast and spun round, throwing into his dancing a swift swivel and squat and even a blink-and-you’d-miss-it kneel like the entertainer he is. The thing is Amaya – the Mexican-born grand-niece of the iconic dancer Carmen Amaya – eventually stole both his thunder and the show right out from under his nose. It wasn’t in her first solo, clad in tight black trousers and a white top with black spots, that she outclassed him, nor in her second poured into a hot-orange dress against cherry-red lighting as Villar sang passionately in her direction. Rather, it was the modulated focus and sustained virtuosity of a third solo that did it – her upright carriage, the rapid tattoo her feet beat out both in place and while zipping clean across the stage, and the speed and precision of some tilted spins. Amaya gave us the night’s most exciting dancing, and we were grateful. The subsequent applause, lasting even after she’d sat down in advance of Farruquito’s next solo, was loud, long and entirely just. Is it too much to say that a new star was born?

Production values throughout the show were simple and fairly standard, but not ineffective: a huge ball of orange light on the backdrop (later replaced, in a different location, by the projection of some pearly-looking planet), some chairs and a long wooden table round which the singers sat as Farruquito in one segment danced atop it. The visuals that accompanied the latter was a giant and distorted digital clock, it’s arrow-like hands working overtime. The sole oddity was a brief use of strobe lighting to end a dance solo – an unnecessary and short-lived gimmick.

Flamenco Festival London continues at Sadler’s Wells until Sunday 24 March

Photo: Sophie Muhlenburg

Donald Hutera writes regularly about dance, theatre and the arts for The Times, Dance Europe, Animated and many other publications and websites.

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