Sadler's Wells, London
Dance review: Flamenco Festival - A welcome taste of Andalucia, not just hot and spicy
Saturday 23 March 2013
At the dog-end of a British winter, there's nothing so welcome as a blast of Spain. Sadler's Wells clocked this 10 years ago when it scheduled its first annual flamenco fortnight, a table of tapas showcasing the expanding range of flavours offered by the newly revived artform.
This year's menu has been more varied than ever – no longer do its components divide into flamenco puro and flamenco fusion. Traditionalists could choose between the pugnacious young gypsy star Farruquito, absent from recent festivals owing to a spot of bother (he's been serving time in a Spanish jail), and the big-frocks display of Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia. The more adventurous might risk a night with the terrier-like Rocio Molina, a tiny bailaora who counts crushing a wineglass beneath her heel as legitimate footwork. Nowhere were past and present more potently meshed, however, than in the opener by queen of the blues Eva Yerbabuena.
The 43-year-old is a performer whose interior life is her material, to the extent that she's now decided to do without supporting dancers on stage – a fearsome test of stamina, if nothing else. She has always been an experimenter, with mixed success (2009's Lluvia –Rain – took melancholy to the max), but this latest piece of self-interrogation hits the spot, its accumulation of scalp-tingling moments leaving the sense of a full-head massage.
In format, !Ay! is traditional enough as a string of plotless solos with onstage musicians: a percussionist, a guitarist, a visiting fiddle, and a trio of male singers in three sizes of voice, the biggest with a vibrato wide enough to drive a herd of bulls through.
In execution, though, !Ay! is as audacious as it gets. In a cinematic opening in a thin beam of light, to the sound of a bleak repeated note from the violin, Yerbabuena creeps in and out of vision like a widowed ghost. And as the note breaks into a shiver, the dancer's hands respond in kind – trembling, then vibrating, then fluttering wildly on windmill arms like panicked moths. When a performance sets off at such a pitch, there might be nowhere left to go. But Yerbabuena maintains the intensity. It shouldn't work, but it does.
When she climbs on a chair, hitches her hem and, in the same spirit of personal crisis, rattles out rhythms with her heels while the percussionist taps a counterpoint on the chairback, we're taken to a lonely landscape and a sleepless night, a branch brushing a window in a gale. Yerbabuena has travelled a long and winding road to reach this level of artistry, but it's been worth sticking with her.
Flamenco Festival continues until Wed (0844 412 4300).
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