Kind hearts and castanets

The stars of the world of flamenco bring Andalusian passion to Sadler's Wells
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The Independent Culture

The Flamenco Festival returns to Sadler's Wells for its second year, bringing some much-needed Mediterranean warmth and passion to the post-Christmas season in London. The two-week festival gives audiences the chance to acquaint themselves with all aspects of flamenco music and singing, as well as with the more celebrated dance tradition.

The Flamenco Festival returns to Sadler's Wells for its second year, bringing some much-needed Mediterranean warmth and passion to the post-Christmas season in London. The two-week festival gives audiences the chance to acquaint themselves with all aspects of flamenco music and singing, as well as with the more celebrated dance tradition.

The festival is the result of a collaboration between Alistair Spalding, artistic director of Sadler's Wells, and Miguel Marin, who is keen to show that there is much more to flamenco than clacking castanets and flouncy dresses. "We have tried to bring together the old masters with upcoming dancers, the traditional with the more contemporary, so that the people who come to see the festival will have a broad idea of the richness of flamenco today."

After the success of last year's festival, Marin believes that dance-lovers in London are ready to embrace flamenco not merely as "touristy entertainment but out of an interest in the art form itself".

Spalding, who brought the first hip-hop dance festival to London in May 2004, adds: "At this time of the year, people are feeling the blues a little bit and you have to find something that is going to invigorate them - and get them to come out to the theatre again after Christmas."

The opening performance of the festival, The Four Elements, brings together two old hands of the genre, Alejandro Granados, a former soloist with Ballet Zaragoza and the Ballet Español de Madrid, and Carmen Cortes, winner of a Premio Max award in 1998, with the young performers Rocio Molina and Carlos Rodriguez.

Other dance highlights include performances by two grandes dames, Eva Yerbabuena and Sara Baras, whom Marin describes as "the most powerful dancers and choreographers in flamenco today".

If impassioned foot-stamping is not to your taste, for music-lovers Carmen Linares will perform popular songs by Federico Garcia Lorca and traditional cante. There will also be guitar recitals by Juan Manuel Canizares and Jose Maria Gallardo. In one of the most intriguing events, Flamenco de Camara draws together the strands of music and dance in a performance by Belen Maya, accompanied by the singer Mayte Martin, that returns flamenco to its cabaret roots.

Marin and Spalding have put together a programme that will appeal to everyone from aficionados of the Andalucian art to beginners. The festival will extend beyond the stage with free flamenco classes for aspiring and inspired bailores in the audience after performances on 18 and 28 January. There will also be masterclasses and post-show discussions with the artists themselves. "The main goal is to bring the artist closer to the audience so that people can get deeper into what flamenco is all about," says Marin, for whom flamenco is not just a dance, but a way of life.

Flamenco Festival, Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0870 737 7737; www.sadlerswells.com) 17 to 30 January

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