Flamenco Festival, Sadler's Wells, London
At Swim Two Boys, Riverside Studios, London
In case of power failure: deploy the man-eating matron and a tipper-load of bricks
Every February for the past nine years, the Sadler's Wells Flamenco Festival has endeavoured to beam some Spanish sun into chilled, grey souls. In the early days the components were predictable.
There would be a night with a singer in the spotlight, another with guitar. Various upcoming dancers would explore flamenco fusion, and there would be one big, slick, theatrical humdinger with stadium sound and legions of heel-drumming frill-flappers.
This year's line-up strikes a quieter note, celebrating the poet and folklorist Federico Garcia Lorca, murdered at the age of 38 only one month into the Spanish Civil War. Presumably it was the old-school purism of bailaora Manuela Carrasco that made the link with Lorca, he having believed Spain could only thrive if it paid attention to its cultural roots.
But Carrasco had reckoned without the old-school power cut that wiped out the automated lighting cues for her show Suspiro Flamenco – cause for sighs indeed. The show went on, late and somewhat tentative – not Carrasco's style at all.
Sturdy of body and aquiline of profile, a stern veteran of four decades on stage, Carrasco doesn't so much perform as unleash herself. Not for her the polite preliminaries, the pretty, coiling arms. She gets down to business, hands jabbing, feet stamping out rhythms with a fury, and at one point taking a great swiping kick as if booting all her displeasure, all her frustration with that cussed gringo electricity supply, into the stalls.
Her attendants, all male, look as if they think she might eat them later. The burliest, a red-faced cantaor with enormous chops, unbuttons his suit to let out a bellowing "Aaaaay-eeeee", heavy as a tipper-load of bricks, and proceeds to hew chunks from a wall of sound. It would transform the experience to know what he was singing about. "My virgin queen wears a crown of light" or "you murder my sleep, you spawn of a whore"? Note to Sadler's Wells: if opera can be surtitled as a matter of course, why not flamenco?
Distilling an epic novel to a single visual idea might also seem to negate the power of words, but this becomes a selling point in At Swim Two Boys, a dance version of the best-selling Irish novel by Jamie O'Neill. Set at the time of the Easter Rising in 1916, it follows the fate of two teenagers whose impotence in the face of world events is countered by a growing sexual bond. The set is a 12ft wall from which water trickles constantly, slowly filling the shallow trough of a stage, its sound lulling and disturbing by turns as the story progresses.
Except that there barely is a story. Boy loves boy. Boys frolic in sea, Gene Kellys in republican kilts and work boots. One boy dies, something to do with a stolen pistol. End of story.
Daniel Connor and Murilo Leite D'Imperio are terrific performers, fearless, fit (eat your heart out Mr Wet-Shirt Darcy). The live music on accordion and pipes is stirring. But the piece lacks background as well as incident. The few historic images projected on the wall are tantalising. In this case less isn't more, it's undernourished.
Flamenco Festival (0844 412 4300) to 19 Feb; 'At Swim Two Boys' (020-8237 1111) to 25 Feb, then touring
Could this be, as is claimed, the first new dance to come out of France since the can-can? Electro, a streetdance style with fast arm and hand movements, is the basis of the eight-man show Electro Kif currently on a 12-venue UK tour. Nottingham Playhouse (Mon & Tue), Lowry, Salford (Wed & Thu), Bradford Alhambra (Sun 19 Feb) and touring.
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