Review: Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company – Flamencura - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 20 - 28 June 2015
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Thursday 25 June 2015

Paco Pena Flamenco Dance Company - Flamencura. Photo: Rita Slattery

Performance reviewed: 23 June

If Rojas and Rodríguez’s Titanium, their rather ill-judged attempt to combine flamenco and hip hop, left you feeling a bit raddled last month, the pure classicism of Paco Peña will come as a cooling balm.

The celebrated flamenco guitarist’s recent shows have revolved around loose narrative structures, but Flamencura ditches that idea: it’s a showcase of 10 short works illuminating the art form’s various styles, from the original fandangos through the familiar soleá and alegrías to the more unusual petenera. And it works beautifully.

A bare stage is all the backdrop needed for this elegantly simple show, once again guided by artistic consultant Jude Kelly. Peña’s liquid guitar playing is always a joy to hear: his solo rondeña is transporting, a cascading evocation of Andalucian beauty and melancholy. His two cantaores, Jose Angel Carmona and Inmaculada Rivero, are also superb, their crackling cante jondo loaded with emotion.

Their music is interpreted by three hugely talented dancers. Angel Muñoz and his wife Charo Espino will be familiar to Paco Peña fans. Muñoz has a grounded presence that doesn’t rely on showy, ‘look at me’ histrionics but nonetheless commands complete attention: his explosive solo soleá reveals an exhilarating command of the form, as he executes perfect spins and piston-like hammering steps that propel him across the stage.

Espino, meanwhile, is the perfect dancer for tangos de Málaga, moving with a slow, sensuous grace that throws a spotlight on her sinuous arm and hand movements, and adding sultry sizzle with provocative hip sways. For the alegrías, she emerges on stage with the swagger of a catwalk model, but fills her dance with joy, embracing the open style and delightedly adding hip jiggles, hops and shrugs.

They are joined by cordobesa Carmen ‘La Talegona’, a dancer from an established flamenco lineage who gives an interpretation of soleá – that most heartwringing of palos – that will stay with you for days. There is a moment when she slips so seamlessly and completely into the music that you can no longer tell if she’s following the musicians or they’re following her, and the power and defiance in her moves are breath-taking. If you’re looking for duende, she is the dancer most likely to lead you to it. She also gives a masterclass in granaina, swirling her huge embroidered shawl around her with insouciant ease.

The petenera she performs with Muñoz is not as thrilling in comparison, largely because something like a Heathcliff and Cathy ghostly storyline has been superimposed on the dance. Flamenco has so much drama of its own that when applied to a storyline you can end up with way too much melodrama: in this case, the pudding is definitely in danger of being over-egged.

But the martinete that opens the second part of the show is more interesting, even if it, too, doesn’t quite come off. The three dancers move with almost martial formation to the palo’s harsh accompaniment – martinete originated from the workers in the forges and the music reflects that – before British blues/jazz singer Vimala Rowe joins the ensemble. Peña wants to explore the link between these two powerful musical expressions of displacement and oppression and the mix has a definite potency, although Rowe’s gorgeous voice does send the compás a bit haywire and at times it feels more like a startled encounter than a meeting of minds.

Continues until Sunday 28 June

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Find her on Twitter @blacktigerlily

Photo: Rita Slattery

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