Review: Israel Galvan - FLA.CO.MEN - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 15 & 16 February
Reviewed by Katherine Columbus - Friday 17 February 2017

Flamenco Festival London – Israel Galván from Sadler’s Wells on Vimeo.

The piece begins with Galvan wearing an apron, taking instructions from what looks like a recipe book or score set on a music stand, trying to listen to the information as it’s read aloud to him. But before long, the rhythmic slaps and stamps of his fine flamenco technique build into comedy, with Galvan’s personality creeping through in nuance, flourish and gesture. This parody of the self whilst demonstrating serious flamenco prowess is a rolling theme that weaves throughout the piece. It takes a comfortable seat in the traditional music sections of thudding, reverberating beats; percussion and footwork to a wild gypsy cry and passionate strumming of the flamenco guitar. It takes deeper roots in the more strikingly abstract moments, where a female singer wails in high pitch, or a violin has a moaning conversation with a horn.

Throughout, Galvan dances with the attitude, bravado and flourish of a highly trained flamenco bailaor, but with quirky edges nuanced with his own charisma and charm that light up the piece with humour, from throw away gestures and tummy slapping to thumb sucking, alongside his excellent technique. But there’s a constant feeling that no matter how hard he tries to stick to the plan that he should follow of how things should be done, he veers off, repeatedly, on his own path.
Galvin likes to play with sense, plunging the whole auditorium into darkness and escaping into the audience where he pops up unexpectedly close to stamp on a round wooden board that he’s carrying. He isn’t afraid of silence either. It all gets a bit John Cage in a couple of places, when he comes to sit at the front of the stage in darkness, swigging from a water bottle, resting it out, leaving us wondering what’ll happen next.

Conceptual elements abound from the recognisably symbolic corset costume, or white flamenco boot used as a drum, then smashed on the stage, indicating freedom from traditional gender stereotype norms, to the bizarre, when a violin is played without notes or the guitarist gets up to dance. But Galvan keeps coming back to the original plan on the music stand, the overarching guide, the pre-ordained design of the action. He clips it to himself as he’s goaded by a traditional male singer but it ends up on his head as the guitarist encourages him with song on one side and a singer shouts “stop” from the other. He shoves it up his top as someone shouts “Silencio!” and the action stops completely. We see a man, an artist, struggling with his artistic vision, trying to free himself from the constraints of tradition, trying to come up with his own plan and concept, to bring to his company; his audience and to his genre.

The evening finishes up with a piccolo and a parody of men performing Spanish folk dancing, until there’s only one girl left on the stage. But for his final hurrah, a call for acceptance, a last push to entertain, Galvan comes back in a red and white flamenco dress to swirl his skirts and flash his pants. His company members have to physically push him off the stage, otherwise we’d still be there now, us enjoying the after party, him enjoying the standing ovation.

At times his idea seems tangled, wrestling with itself even as the performance plays out. But it’s clear that Galvin has come far with the idea of conceptual flamenco and bringing Spanish dance into the modern world.

Katherine Colombus is a columnist, critic and editor. Twitter @Katiecolombus

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