Review: Sara Baras in Sabores at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 1 - 12 July 08
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 3 July 2008

Performance: 1 July 2008

One has to admire the prescience of the Sadler’s Wells programmers, scheduling this Queen of Flamenco to appear within a couple of days of her native Spain being crowned the European Kings of Football. If the Brasil Brasiliero show comes back to Islington in the summer of 2010, we will know who to bet on winning the world cup.

Of all the dance forms, flamenco seems – even more than ballet – to be shrouded in some inner mystery that makes its unique charm only truly accessible to those on the inside of its culture. Every flamenco performance has the same effect upon me, starting with an immediate “wake-up” call that gets the hairs on my neck ready for something special, but with this feeling tending to climax long before the dance does. Despite the undoubted brilliance of Sara Baras and her two lead male collaborators (José Serrano and Luis Ortega) I’m sorry to say that this trend continued here with my initial feeling of exuberance wearing away long before the end.

Endings are not all they seem in flamenco, and particularly in Baras’ choreography. Each of her solos initially culminates in a flurry of fast feet, twirling skirts and dramatic poses, only to begin again…and again. Each encore has an encore and often the additional sequences took the dance away from its first high impact ending. However, the very final encore was a spectacular example of Baras’ stunning ability to shuffle across the stage with hundreds of uniformly, tiny steps whilst creating a huge rhythmic crescendo of beats. She is certainly an imposing, noble and beautiful dancer with powerfully percussive feet and a remarkably pliable body. Her stage presence commanded the audience and her fellow players as only great artists can.

The star was well supported in macho solos by Ortega and Serrano, the latter accompanying his dance with castanets to create a cacophony of inter-linked rhythmic patterns. But in between all of this, my cultural limitations in these fine arts left me rather indifferent to much of the linking corps de ballet work and the general, slow development of many of the dances. To my untrained ears, the sameness of the gypsy flavour of the accompanying musicians (especially in the vocals) was perhaps the performance element that lasted least well. Although the skill of Baras and her dancers was frequently stunning it also came round again in choreography that focused on doing the same brilliant things very often. So much of Flamenco needs the close attention to small detail to be fully appreciated and in a show which ran to two hours (without a break) – against an aspiration of 90 minutes – this becomes wearying after awhile.

In the penultimate encore before the final encore, Sara shouted out something about loving London in Spanish and there is no doubting that she was loved back in return by a standing ovation from an opening night crowd full of aficionados who clearly knew and appreciated the flair, innovation and skill of great, modern Flamenco.

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