Dance: Paco Pena Flamenco Dance Company Peacock Theatre, London
Friday 07 February 1997
Despite Pena's status as one of the great flamenco guitarists of the century, no single element is allowed to dominate. Instead, his artists unfold their gifts revealing that his talent-spotting is as brilliant as his fingering. However, even a man of sympathy and taste like Pena is not immune to fashion trends and there is a tendency toward synchronised strutting - with four women dancing in unison, shattering the pleasurable illusion that all the steps were dreamed up in the bus on the way to the theatre. But Pena's quartet do it with feeling and with that strange frumpy glamour that makes you think about buying a long princess-line dress with a nice frill round the bottom.
Just when you thought individual expression might be being phased out, Charo Espino enters in Sunday best black-and-white polka dots for the sole and carves her pain and pride in the air with a sweep of her long, strong arms and a flick of her flexible spine. The spiky curls of her fingers are a wild reminder of the dance's oriental roots. Her feet seem happy enough but her face is a knot of fury, permanently locked in that mad flamenco frown. What could this magnificent creature have to worry about?
She shares the honours with the young Angel Munoz. No Armani, not even the snake-hipped strides of yore, instead he wears a red shirt and black jeans. As always, it isn't just the flying feet that make solo flamenco dancing such a thrill: it's the silky turns and the expressive articulation of the head and upper body that create a more nuanced, less relentlessly macho style.
The evening's first half concludes with Munoz in a three-piece suit at the centre of four guitarists. Munoz is a delicious talent with a cheeky, chico consciousness of his own virtuosity. The guitars stop and he teases us with a soft shoe shuffle as his little suede Chelsea boots tickle the floor before giving vent to a virtuoso display of zapateado. The purring drum solo of soles and heels is executed with control and panache but, most importantly, with wit - as if the dance were a genuine pleasure and our reaction to it a precious thing in his care. In conclusion, he tosses his little jacket casually over his shoulder and delivers his final flurry of dance like a parting gift. Most of the great flamenco dancers of this century have reached their artistic peak in middle-age. Munoz is only 22. His prime doesn't bear thinking about.
The unspoilt, innocent air that renders him so charming is partly a factor of his youth but is surely also a consequence of being presented as part of an ensemble. The name on the poster is Paco Pena but even he isn't a star. Any young ego would be in excellent hands. For a guitar legend, Pena is surprisingly backward about coming forward. It wouldn't hurt to shine the spotlight a little more forcefully on the show's key talents: Munoz, Espino and of course, Pena himself - a modest man with absolutely nothing to be modest about.
To 1 March. Booking: 0171-314 8800
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