Review: Gala Flamenca:Todo Cambia: Flamenco Festival London at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 26 & 27 Feb 2010
Reviewed by Sam Gauntlett - Tuesday 2 March 2010

Rocio Molina
Photo: Luis Castilla

Reviewed: 26 February

Since the end of Franco’s dictatorship in 1975, a wave of female flamenco choreographers have been building a new contemporary vocabulary and entering into a dialogue with the art form’s past, so it was no surprise that in the finale of the seventh Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells, it was the women who dominated.

In _*Gala Flamenca: Todo Cambia* _(meaning “Flamenco Gala: Everything Changes”), four leading choreographer/performers; three women, one man, present shifting notions of femininity and masculinity, explored within the classical frameworks of this centuries-old cultural tradition. Flamenco is a conversation between various elements: musicians, singers, “palmeras” (those who keep time, articulating complex rhythms or “compa?s” by clapping) and dancers.

Roci?o Molina’s choreography and performance is showcased in four out of the seven episodes that make up the first half of the performance. In the opening piece, Molina is dressed in leather: short dress, knee-high boots and bolero jacket – a far cry from the archetypal frill-skirted flamenco queen. In displaying this tough exterior skin and in her proud, masculine stance, features concentrated into a fierce scowl, she seems to channel her inner bull. Later, in a different costume, she even paws the ground with her foot as though preparing to charge.

Her rapid stamping foot-work (or “taconeo“) is mesmerising and when a male singer’s moving, pained call adds a new facet to the work, Molina responds to his tones, breaking into a more fluid and passionate phrase, though all the while remaining locked in her own interior world.

Later, Molina performs more stunning taconeo inside a shallow wooden box, where kicking the sides of the box and slapping her own body adds an additional dimension to the impossibly complex rhythm. Her costume here is more flowing, with echoes of gypsy: loosely slung jumper and short tight trousers, with lace-up brogues, but she is still a long way from the traditionally feminine figure of the flowing skirted flamenco woman. This section of the first half is exciting beyond measure. She seems to be saying: you can put me in a box, but I will still fly free of expectations.

Two male dancers cut dashing figures, prowling the stage and whipping the air in sharp pirouettes, wet hair sending splashes across the space, in a duet where they don’t really react to, but reflect, each other. Coria and Guerrero present a traditional idea of the flamenco man, all dark hair and proud stature, but when Molina returns to the stage, it is her strong commanding presence that holds our attention.

Singer Rosario Guerrero also makes a big impact in her solo piece, *Milonga*. With a voice that effortlessly vaults rapid inflections, her undulating pitch takes you on an emotional journey, regardless of whether or not you understand the words.

Bele?n Lo?pez closes the first half with her passionate solo, wearing a white bull-fighter’s costume, long, dark hair flying free. Her style, although more feminine in execution than Molina’s, with intricate hand and sweeping arm movements, is peppered with jerky phrases that seem out of step with flamenco, but bring a quirkiness to the piece. Where Molina is a concentrated ball of tightly controlled energy, Lopez is an explosive firecracker, covering the stage with aggressive dynamism and challenging the audience with her direct gaze.

When Pastora Galva?n enters, in a full-skirted dress, she brings a gravitas and sense of history to the ensemble. Galva?n comes from a family of highly-esteemed flamenco artists and injects raw emotion into a Seguirilla (a deeply solemn form of flamenco). At one point, caught in the moment, she bites on her own fist. With skirts flying and castanets clicking, her style manifests in a more traditional execution as she is joined by Lo?pez, also in a more traditionally feminine dress. Galva?n is perhaps the most natural of the dancers and Manuel Lin?a?n’s choreography flows from her as though she were merely breathing in and out.

At the beginning of the second half, Lin?a?n performs his own choreography with the fluidity of fresh cream falling from a silver spoon. In a Fred Astaire style routine, he holds a shiny cane, which he uses to pull himself from a sitting to standing position, brandishes as though a sword and twirls like Charlie Chaplin. He then uses it as an extra limb with which to execute vigorous rhythmic footwork that seems to be fuelled from a fire within.

The closing section conjures up images of improvised flamenco in local bars, with the dancers taking turns to sit and watch one another interact with the musicians. Each individual’s personality shines and combined, creates an explosive cocktail to bring the show to its crescendo.

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