Review: Gala Flamenca 2017 - Sadler’s Wells

Performance: 23 - 25 Feb 2017
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 28 February 2017


Performance reviewed: 23 February 2017

Manuel Liñan is in the vanguard of driving flamenco forward in the twenty-first century; but, unlike others in this avant garde movement, such as Rocío Molina and Israel Galván (who had opened this festival with FLA.CO.MEN, a challenging deconstruction of flamenco), Liñan’s experimentations are strictly derived from the roots of flamenco tradition. As director of this year’s Gala Flamenca, Liñan has reached back into the past, drawing inspiration from the era of Café Cantante; a period between the late nineteenth century and the 1920s, when flamenco emerged from the informality of street and family settings to crystallise as public entertainment in these “singing cafés”.

Liñan’s directorial genius is to have created a show that is both rooted in a century-old history but nonetheless highly original, giving more than a passing nod to the future of flamenco. And, in keeping with the pre-eminence of song as the first amongst flamenco equals, this glimpse of the future was perhaps most prevalent in the honeyed, liquid voice of Rocío Marquez. She has a broad and consistently strong vocal range, punctuated by accents of jazz and operatic flows and trills; here is expressive flamenco song but softer and less abrasive. More soul than blues.

Márquez is the first soloist to feature on this exciting programme, giving her own distinctive version of Pepe Marchena’s classic song Romance a Córdaba, which continues her ongoing exploration of Marchena’s work that has already produced an album (El Niño, in 2014) and is fuelling her PhD thesis on Marchena’s ethics and aesthetics. Marchena – who died in 1976 – was one of the great singers of the ópera flamenca period of the mid-twentieth century and it is this freer style – literally cante libre – that also distinguishes Márquez’s effortless vocal manoeuvrability. This is true also of the Fandango that she sings to accompany Olga Pericet’s dancing, later in the programme. For me, Márquez was the find of this year’s Flamenco Festival London.

Herminia Borja is a regular in the Madrid tablaos of Casa Patas and Corral de la Moreria and sang with the legendary guitarist Paco de Lucia during his final tour; born in Sevilla’s flamenco district of Triana, power and passion are articulated in the strength of her feeling, rather than through clarity of language. The male singers, Miguel Lavis and Jonathan Reyes, are more involved but less prominent than these two extraordinary women.

Women dancers also predominate. Firstly, in the superbly co-ordinated dexterity of rising star, Patricia Guerrero, who performs a Cantiñas by deftly and simultaneously manipulating her carpet-sized, fringed shawl (mantón) and the long train of her heavily-frilled dress (bata de cola); dancing with apparently effortless ease while wrapping and unravelling fabric around arms, shoulders and legs. At just 27 (her birthday was on the last night of this Gala), Guerrero has already won two Giraldillos at the Seville Biennial; and I expect that she will be headlining her own theatrical flamenco shows in the not-too-distant-future.

The expressive hands and highly-disciplined elegance of Olga Pericet are beautifully showcased in the aforementioned Fandangos, accompanying the gorgeous singing of Márquez, and again in her Guajira solo, infused with tango rhythms. Dressed in her trademark, figure-hugging black trousers and white bolero jacket; she appears as if a tiny, beautiful doll in an Argentine Milonga. Pericet seems at least a decade younger than her age (41).

A third great bailaora closed the show. A member of the flamenco gypsy clan from Morón de la Frontera that descends from the legendary guitarist, Diego del Gastor, Juana Amaya brought the full texture of emotion to the doleful solemnity of her Soleá. Amaya’s considerable virtuosity is raw, visceral and delivered in short sprints, the frills of her skirt hiked up above her knees, punctuated by moments of stillness. It is flamenco puro in its most tortured expressionism, performed by a dancer who seemed entranced by the feeling of the song (performed by Lavis, Reyes and Borja).

Jesús Carmona chose a lively caña to exhibit his explosive, yet tightly-controlled, footwork (zapateado). He mixes occasional moments of subdued subtlety with authoritative locomotion etched onto the sculpted, rigid frame of his upper body. His energetic performance provided a bravura central core to the show.

This was a memorable Gala Flamenca, showcasing the diverse variety of song, dance and music (provided by two excellent guitarists, Daniel Jurado and El Tomate and Paco Vega’s percussion). Liñan successfully fused traditional and new styles of flamenco; combining both authentic reimagining of Café Cantante performances and innovative creations that built upon this history. At the curtain call, Liñan slipped off his director’s hat and delighted his many fans with a brief and explosive solo to lead his excellent cast offstage.

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He is a regular contributor to Dancing Times and also writes for, 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

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