Passionate, poised, but hardly pure

Pura Pasión | Peacock Theatre, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Choosing a title for your flamenco show can't be easy these days. Heart, soul, gypsy, passion: there aren't many words in the lexicon left to play with. Pura Pasión is a pretty loose description of the show from Madrid that had its world premiere in London last Wednesday. Passion it has by the barrel-load. But pure? Does anyone know what that means in terms of flamenco?

Choosing a title for your flamenco show can't be easy these days. Heart, soul, gypsy, passion: there aren't many words in the lexicon left to play with. Pura Pasión is a pretty loose description of the show from Madrid that had its world premiere in London last Wednesday. Passion it has by the barrel-load. But pure? Does anyone know what that means in terms of flamenco?

If pure means traditional, the intent of this show is anything but. A line of wired-up musicians extends the entire width of the stage: fiddle, flute, synthesiser, Tom, Dick and Diego - with just one regular guitar. The dancers, when they appear, are subject to Riverdance reasoning: why show one dancer when you can show lots doing the same thing? The snag is that the demands of unison movement severely limit invention. And once the initial mass impact is made, the dances soon start to look dull.

There's nothing pure, either, about the cultural scope of this show. Just as the gypsies are thought to have migrated from India via Arabia to southern Spain, absorbing influences along the way, so modern flamenco practitioners are opening up the form to fuse with those cultures afresh. This crossover is most obvious in Jesus Bola and Diego Carrasco's musical compositions.

Their first is a dense blast of sound with a north African beat and suggestions of Arabic melody. Where you expect wailing flamenco vocals, instead you get a hummable Hebrew chorus of "Shalom". Other numbers go heavy on Turkish and Hindu influences. It's an interesting idea, even when it doesn't quite come off, as in one weird excursion into Gregorian Chant. More distressing to my ear is the sappy Spanish commercial sound that seems to be creeping into flamenco music by the back door.

The show's choreographers - who include the pin-up Joaquin Cortes as well as his uncle, Cristobal Reyes, its director - are also at pains to subvert the traditional forms. I didn't expect to like the Farruca - normally a man's solo dance - performed by seven young women in designer trouser suits. But I was won over by their seriousness and restraint, as well as their command of the fast, percussive footwork while keeping the torso poised and still - a task made trickier by breasts. The soloist, Maria Juncal, was terrific.

Other group dances branch off in wackier directions. A number based on an encounter between a gypsy girl and an Indian girl was odd, and the "African" finale even odder (I mentally dubbed the hair-flailing chorus Wild Women of Wongo). But a short drama based on a bullfight was full of inventive imagery. What's more, the matador ended up gored by the bull, which will endear it to many.

For all the show's innovations, though, there is tradition at its heart. When the spotlight closes in on its star dancers - which it does, happily, for generous stretches of time - the show forgets about being hip and going global. It gives the old flamenco its head, and lets it run in its individualistic, highly structured, often self-parodying way.

I'm sorry that Lola Greco will not receive the applause she is accustomed to as a big star in Spain. Her Spanish-classical style - with its high kicks and curiously flaccid jetés and spins - just doesn't grab us here. But young Rafaela Carrasco delivers the kind of concentrated, don't-you-mess-with-me fury, with endless variations, that will continue to make new converts to old-school flamenco. And Cristobal Reyes - 57, and five foot three in heels - is quite simply a knock-out. Pasión, of the purest sort, must be his middle name.

Pura Pasión: Peacock Theatre, WC2 (020 7863 8222) to 17 March

Comments