Review: FLAMENCO Joaqun Cortes Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
I didn't like it the first time. And it hasn't got any better. A year after his triumphant British debut at Sadler's Wells, Joaqun Cortes's Gipsy Passion appears to be all but spent.

The Albert Hall's capacity audience was certainly on for it and greeted Cortes's messianic entrance through the crowd with the now traditional cheers, but that was the biggest spontaneous response he was to get in two hours of tedium that exposed him as a conceited egomaniac devoid of theatrical judgement. In earlier incarnations of this show, Cortes used to toss off a swift zapateado on arrival. Now he merely disappears into the wings. A costume change? A brisk wipe for that sweaty torso? Hardly. The star of the evening didn't reappear for the best part of an hour and the audience never quite forgave him.

The intervening period was filled with yards and yards of hispanic line dancing by Cortes's Armani-clad chorus line of 14 women twirling and strutting in unison. Each time they paused, the audience clapped politely in the vain hope that they had stopped. The music was no help. Unwilling to trust the boring old flamenco mix of sublime guitars and stern percussion, Cortes adds flutes and violins which cloud the mix and create a dreary sound environment where Ennio Morricone meets the Gipsy Kings. If you suck the life out of the music, line the cantadores up like backing singers and spend the bulk of the evening in your dressing room, you are going to be hard put to fill two hours.

The sole prawn in this budget paella was the divine Christobal Reyes. At 51, he remains a rare virtuoso and his footwork has astonishing strength that enables him to explore complex rhythms, even when balanced on his natty cuban heels. The point that Reyes's performance drives home most forcibly is that true flamenco transcends technique. Reyes isn't afraid to curl his body into an ugly contraction, to fling himself into a ragged pirouette, to contort his handsome features into an agonised grimace when building up to a sequence of more conventional virtuosity. The veteran star's keen theatrical intelligence quickly established a rapport with the crowd and he let it appear that their enthusiasm was spurring him to fresh marvels.

For a man often billed as "pure sex", Reyes's young nephew has no idea how to reach a climax. When Cortes finally graced the stage for what should have been a tour de force, his weaknesses were fatally exposed, and by the time he saw fit to begin his tired solos he had lost the audience for good. He stomped to a halt at the end of his first heel-tapping display and looked up expectantly but all he got was desultory clapping: no whoops, no oles, nothing. He tried again. And again, until the cultivated look of Andalusian angst began to seem for real. The low-level applause was especially embarrassing for a performer whose repertoire of poses is predicated on adulation. He tried storming out through the audience and then storming back, as if an encore had been demanded. At one point he actually sat down on the edge of the stage and for an awful moment I thought he was going to give us "Over the Rainbow". Anything to win back our affection. I began to think we would have to shoot him to put him out of his misery.

The publicity material assures us that "critics have searched for new superlatives" to describe Joaqun Cortes. OK. How about "Quite the worst flamenco show I have ever seen".

Joaqun Cortes dances tonight, tomorrow and Sun, Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (0171-589 8212); then touring to Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester and Cardiff