DANCE / Spanish export with the stamp of authenticity

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WHERE do you go to see and hear the world's best flamenco? Anywhere outside Spain, apparently. The plaintive-tempestuous music and dance of the Andalusian gypsies, once in decline, has lately been stamping its way back to health - not so much as a result of all those tapas bars, but from a hefty input of Spanish government pesetas. Rather than see its great performance art reduced to a tourist floorshow, Spain has purified and recharged it, and packed it off on tour. The group Cumbre Flamenca (literally 'summit of flamenco') is the result: five star dancers drawn from a variety of troupes back home, four star guitarists, and four star solo singers. The wild, guttural song and vigorous hand-clapping are much more than accompaniment: aficionados go as much to listen as to watch. They also go to witness the subtle upstaging that goes on between ferociously competitive artists, both men and women. In flamenco, unlike ballet, lithe youth and beauty do not necessarily win over wit and experience, as the ageless veteran Mariquilla will doubtless set out to demonstrate. (Sadler's Wells, 071-278 8916, Tues to 8 Oct.)

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