Review: Cía. Manuel Liñán – Reversible – Sadler’s Wells

Performance: 26 February
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Tuesday 28 February 2017

Performance reviewed: 26 February

When Israel Galván appeared on stage in a flamenco dress at the end of his latest show (which opened this year’s Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival), shimmying and shrugging an exposed shoulder, it seemed like nothing more than a bit of fun.  The Granada-born artist Manuel Liñán’s approach is quite different – he appears before us in a severe black dress, sweeping his bata de cola around him and sending his shawl flying; you immediately see that exploring the female flamenco role represents something crucial in Reversible, his new show (and the festival’s last dance performance). And Liñán’s full-throttle opening bulería brooks no opposition – you are swept along by the sheer physical force of his performance and the exhilarating sense that he’s finding a freedom from societal constraint.

Liñán’s transformation is presented initially as complete – Reversible explores how he got there, through a series of duets, each representing another step towards a more gender-fluid examination of flamenco. Liñán is led along a path of red carnations, which are strewn like a border round the stage, a few at a time after each segment, until he reaches his climactic soleá, dressed once more in the black dress and shawl, and can sweep up all the flowers in his bata de cola.

Reversible echoes too with references to traditional children’s games – skipping, pat-a-cake, hop-scotch – harking back to the perceived simplicity of childhood instincts and impulses, and innocence of gender roles. A long length of rope is used repeatedly. It bonds together Liñán (in male attire) and his fellow dancer José Maldonado – they lasso each other playfully between thunderous synchronised bursts of zapateo. It’s teased and shaped into patterns on the floor by Maldonado and Lucía Álvarez “La Piñona” as they gently flirt their way through a guajira. Most strikingly, it encloses the performers in a makeshift boxing ring, as Liñán smoothly swaps roles with La Piñona while they dance cantiñas. Their jabs, feints and parries show how, in this moment, both dancers are confronting their roles and relishing that confrontation – meanwhile an interlude from their “referee”, the veteran bailaor José Suárez “El Torombo”, who seems to stomp the ground into submission with his alegría, is a delight.

Maldonado and La Piñona are excellent throughout – La Piñona at one point showing her own bata de cola skills with an extra-long train. Liñán’s musical back-up is simple – two singers, two guitars, a cajón, palmeros to keep up the fiendish flamenco compás – but also hugely accomplished, and both guitarists, Pino Losada and Francisco Vinuesa, get a chance to shine in spotlit solos of real beauty.

Nothing, however, overshadows Liñán; when he delves into his astonishing reserves of stamina and goes for it in the tientos-tangos section (presented as a first foray into taking on female movement, with a jacket as an improvised skirt) and that closing soleá, you see an artist of astonishing virtuosity, one who can communicate deep feeling through his dance and envelop you with the force of his personality. His rattling cascades of hammered steps can be breathtaking, his hand flicks astonishingly eloquent. And as he builds to a fury of emotion in the soleá, which his body seems barely able to contain, it’s almost like he’s weaponised the dance. Thrilling. 

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

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