DANCE / Fired by flamenco

CRISTINA HOYOS came to Sadler's Wells last week and exposed this country's best- kept secret - the British are mad about flamenco. The box office could have sold Ballet Cristina Hoyos twice over. What is remarkable is that Hoyos's company has not been to London before, although it has twice been to the Edinburgh Festival since 1988, when it was founded. Nor was Hoyos a frequent visitor to the capital in the 20 years she danced with the renowned Antonio Gades.

Not a gypsy herself, Hoyos has adapted and glamorised the fierce Andalusian dance, taking it out of clubs and putting it on stage in a spectacular show. In the process, she has provided Spain with an international cultural export: around the world, Hoyos is flamenco.

The programme begins with her showpiece solo in a striking red dress with a lavish train of frills. She is 47, squarish, intense, dark hair swept into a bun. Long arms snake above her head, hips swivel and sway while stamping feet deliver swift hammer blows. Energy is dispersed evenly so that the light upper body and grounded legs harmonise in a cohesive whole-body movement. Hoyos works so many nuances into flamenco's already complex rhythm that no two combinations look the same. Her speed, power and subtlety are mesmeric. Mercifully, after a showy first number, she puts her castanets away. They interfere with the music (three guitarists and three male singers) and restrict her fluid fingers.

The high energy is sustained throughout the programme, dipping only now and again when the music veers from the traditional. The male dancers in their Cuban heels stamp so fast that their feet hardly touch the ground. They spin in near-balletic turns and look particularly airy when dancing with Hoyos, whose power offsets their lightness. The four other women, steeped in Hoyos's style, could be soloists in their own right.

Flamenco is largely melancholic, the words of the music telling of blood feuds, death, the Virgin Mary. But it has its light-hearted side. Hoyos is mostly more serious than tragic, and she holds a rip-roaring party as an encore, with musicians and dancers gathering at the front of the stage, taking turns to entertain the group. A portly singer is a star turn, sending up the dance with his own bum-wiggling version.

From flamenco to fiasco. Laid Out Lovely (a rotting romance) is Emilyn Claid's coarse look at the beauty of death. A former ballerina, Claid rebelled against ballet's aristocratic conventions in the late Sixties to pioneer the new dance movement in this country. After a period as a dance administrator and choreographer, she has returned to performance, notably with last year's piquant

Virginia Minx at Play.

In her latest piece, she puts a bullet in ballet once more as an ageing, gin-soaked prima ballerina whose bottle of spirits is willing but whose flesh is weak. The potential of this is never developed. The cast is chosen for its versatility rather than virtuosity, but no amount of flexibility puts meat on these skeletal ideas. At one point, Claid and two others indulge in 50 ritualistic ways to leave your life, just as I was thinking of 50 ways to leave my seat.

Although dance is mainly identified with women, most choreographers are men. Claid feels this gives women no chance to express their sexuality, so it is surprising that she did not seize the opportunity to say something new. Gay sex on stage is neither novel nor shocking; simply presenting nudity and homo-eroticism is not enough, particularly in a week when The Late Show broadcast a feature on how gay culture has entered the mainstream.

Claid's macabre vignettes include a drop-dead jogger, maggots fornicating on a coffin and a funeral at which tears turn into convulsive laughter. When she looks back on Laid Out Lovely she may realise how close she came to dancing on her own artistic grave.

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