Dance: Smoke without fire

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The Independent Culture
FLAMENCO HAS an allure for British audiences that morris dancing evidently lacks. We love flamenco insatiably - and therefore the Peacock Theatre loves it too. With flamenco it hopes to plug the hole in the finances of its sister theatre Sadler's Wells, where not even sold-out houses could balance the cost of bringing the Frankfurt Ballet and Pine Bausch's Wuppertal ensemble.

So here we have, for a blockbusting four weeks, the Paco Pena Flamenco Dance Company, back with a new show, Musa Gitana. These days it has almost become the norm for theatre flamenco to incorporate a story or theme, and Musa Gitana invokes the life and work of the Andalusian painter Julio Romero de Torres. It is an attractive idea to project his paintings on stage and show film of the mosque and streets of Cordoba, where he lived at the turn of the century. His art portrayed leisured society on the one hand and Gypsy low life on the other. From this, Pena and Peter Bunyard have attempted to string some kind of scenario together about a conflicting duality, about the Gypsy as the Muse or Musa (Cecilia Gomez) and her opposite, the elegant Dama (Mayte Bajo).

The narrative is tenuous and haphazardly presented. The long scene depicting an Easter procession makes sense only if you know it echoes a painting not shown during the performance. The Muse is ultimately stabbed by her jealous lover, yet you could not tell this without reading the painter's biography in the programme beforehand. The company's leading male dancer, Angel Munoz, represents the painter, but I haven't the faintest idea who the two other men are, black cloaks and all.

Better perhaps to concentrate on the music and dance. Together they mirror Torres's two sides by alternating the desolate wail of flamenco with Ramon Medina's gentle modern folk songs. The nine dancers expand flamenco's percussive rhythms and rearing postures with freer, broader shapes. In Mayte Bajo's solos these cross into ballet, as she unravels a series of turns, her bias-cut evening dress fluttering. Angel Munoz looks as striking as on his previous visit, black Assyrian curls and eagle profile intact,.

So why doesn't the air crackle with excitement? Because Javier Latorre's choreography rations flamboyant virtuosity and prefers a long-winded lyricism. Musa Gitana is in the image of Pena, whose own muted stage presence is the antithesis of theatricality.

I felt I wanted my flamenco straight, with all its infectious cliches of noise and fire.

Nadine Meisner