Review: Rojas & Rodríguez - Titanium - The Peacock

Performance: 5 - 23 May 2015
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 8 May 2015

Rojas & Rodríguez - Titanium. Photo: Bettina Strenske

Performance reviewed: 6 May

The opening of Titanium was an atmospheric coup de theatre that might have been borrowed from the London Dungeon. A small glimmer of light gradually unveiled a black figure, his featureless face masked by a closely-bound dark scarf, pulling against many white tethers stretching tightly as he made his way very slowly across the stage. The movement effect was exactly as if this figure was one of the late Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion models (in such films as Jason & the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans). The jerky, effortful motion surrounded by blackness was an impactful start.

After Jason & the Argonauts, the imagery morphed into Game of Thrones, an evocative effect conjured by the black studded, leather costumes and combat-style trousers worn by this troop of nine men. They first appear in a set that is surrounded by a backdrop that suggests antiquity or Egyptology, moving the scenario onto Raiders of the Lost Ark! As you may have gathered, the first few minutes were filled with many allusions and not a lot of dance.

When the dance came it was initially disappointing. Far from the promised explosion of breakdance, flamenco and hip hop it was a limp firework, especially the flamenco dancing on a thin sheet of rolled metal that – if anything – dulled the Hispanic spark. The ensemble was evenly split into groups of three with the flamenco dancers led by the show’s creators, Carlos Rodríguez and Ángel Rojas, innovators of the unique movement style known as Nuevo Ballet Español; plus three each of b-boys and hip hop artists. They were accompanied by a flamenco singer, Juan Debel, and guitarist – Paco Cruz – plus a percussionist (Karo Sampela) and an itinerant violinist, often wandering amongst the action, who also doubled up on keyboards (Roman Gottwald). If you’ve been counting then you will know this adds up to 13 all-male performers. I don’t know if this number is regarded with as much superstition by the Spanish but notably there were never more than twelve on stage, at once, until the extended finale.

The performance was 90 minutes’ straight through and much of it of variable interest. Some of the dancing was of the highest order, notably in fast, shimmering flamenco footwork (the nuevo style appears to place less emphasis on the rigorous traditional shapes of the upper body) and in blistering world-class breakdancing from the mostly masked men (the masks only come off in the closing stages). One might be forgiven for wondering what centuries-old flamenco tradition and the modern fashion of street dance could have in common and there are odd moments in transitions where the styles seem to be oddly juxtaposed. However, both dance forms come from the streets and they are essentially “competitive” in the sense of each performer showing off his virtuoso skills to the encouragement of the surrounding group. The sequence where each dancer took turns to perform their special party tricks livened up the enthusiasm although it may have been best to allow the brilliant b-boys to go last, not first, since it was difficult for the others to maintain the momentum they created.

If the quality of dance was patchy, the dark and brooding stage designs by Álvaro Prieto, augmented by Vicente Soler’s warrior costumes, were very effective; and the original music by Héctor González Sanchez was suitably diverse with infectious toe-tapping rhythms. As to what the scenario was about, there were many possible explanations. But, the decaying, urban futuristic landscape – in retrospect perhaps more Mad Max than Game of Thrones – brought the dancers from these three worlds together in a layered association, rather than as a fusion, which would not be the correct description.

As well as being classy performers, Rojas and Rodrígues leave no stone unturned in their quest to present a holistic artistic vision, pulling together design, lighting, choreography and other elements. There is certainly a fire in their particular brand of nuevo flamenco but it is the brilliant breakdancing that puts you on the edge of the seat. There are episodes of really rousing dance in this eclectic mix, but you have to wait for them, while soaking up the spectacle of this dark and sinister Titanium world.

Continues at the Peacock until 23 May 2015
www.sadlerswells.com



Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He is a regular contributor to Dancing Times and also writes for Londondance.com, Dancetabs.com and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is chairman of the dance section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK and of the National Dance Awards. Twitter: @gwdancewriter

Photos: Bettina Strenske

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