DANCE / The real thing: Judith Mackrell on the formidable Cristina Hoyas at Sadler's Wells

Cristina Hoyas may not have been born a gypsy and inherited flamenco by blood - but from the first moment you see her on stage, you know that she's the real thing. Standing in profile, her torso slightly bowed and her arms curved out in front of her, the tension coiled within her body makes her as fascinating, dangerous and hypnotic as an attacking snake.

It's a tension Hoyas controls to devastating effect. Breaking the stillness, she lets it burst through her fingers in an electric crackle of castanets; she sends it winding through her arms in slow, mesmeric spirals; she routes it down through her feet in a storm of rhythmic stamping. It's a tension too, not just of harnessed energy, but of intelligence. Phrases are shaped with an authority that makes every move inevitable while every dramatic nuance seems freighted with Hoyas' own formidable personality - as well as a whole history of blood, sweat and tears.

Hoyas is well into middle age, a stern, square, serious presence. There's a slight stiffness in her upper body and you notice how big (as well as articulate) her hands are. But flamenco is not about bland prettiness or grace - it's for women rather than girls. So when Hoyas dances the Seguirilla with a trio of men she is no lightweight bit of skirt. She is their mother, their mistress, their priestess, their queen. Summoning each one into the orbit of her powerful dancing, she seems to embrace their quicker, sharper rhythms in the slow, full curves of her own movement. When she dances solo in the Taranto she is a harsh, keening, perilous soul, while in the larky Bulerias she pulls up her dress between her legs, kicking her heels and out-flirting everyone else in the company - among whom she is doubtless the despot as well as the star.

Hoyas does, though, have an excellent team of dancers, and outstanding among the men is Adrian Galia who dances the solo Farruca. He is slight and fast, but he is also very strong and his dancing dramatises the opposing forces of flamenco - its frenetic activity and its proud lifted torso and crushing downward force, its alternately relentless and lilting rhythms.

Hoyas' choreography (in collaboration with Manolo Marin) illuminates these elements with considerable sophistication. In the opening of the Tango she orchestrates her dancers' footwork so that a quick continuous bass of three men is set against the louder, complex counterpoint of clapping as eight dancers turn tightly round each other. Yet Hoyas never loses touch with the gut power of flamenco and she is well aided by her singers and musicians who are not only as concentrated as her dancers but often assume the drama for themselves. Towards the close of the Taranto the huge, rasping wail of one singer matches Hoyas' dancing sob for sob and threat for threat - until it finally swells to such clamorous passion that Hoyas is driven from the stage.

Ballet Cristina Hoyas is at Sadler's Wells Theatre, EC1, until 12 March

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