Poet in New York, Sadler’s Wells, London

 

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The Independent Culture

Towards the end of his show Poet in New York, flamenco star Rafael Amargo tenderly leads each of his musicians off stage, one by one. You might think this was an early curtain call, a chance to thank each performer. It isn’t: Amargo dominates each exit, playing to the audience as he shuffles his co-stars out of the way.

At Sadler’s Wells as part of this year’s Flamenco Festival London, Poet in New York is a series of episodes, each inspired by the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca. It’s a jumble of film sequences, dances numbers in styles from traditional flamenco to contemporary dance, changes of costume and a fair amount of posing. Sometimes Lorca’s poetry is recited in voiceover. A few sequences have recorded music, but most are led by Amargo’s lively team of musicians.  

Amargo himself, an award-winning dancer and choreographer, is a strong but hammy performer. His technique can be impressive: his lunges are silky, down to one knee and back up in a single, fluid motion. His footwork is efficient, with rolling heel taps. Amargo’s use of his upper body is less effective, his shoulders usually muffled in badly-fitting boxy jackets. His greatest weakness is the spotlight. He ends one solo by falling to his knees, reaching up into the light, urging us to applaud. He’s a whisker away from playing air guitar.   

The show’s traditional flamenco sequences are its strongest. A wedding scene has a cheerful sense of community, with dancers and musicians cheering each other on. Yolanda Jiménez makes an exuberant bride, leading the festivities. In later solos, she shows fast footwork and a sense of space. She’ll swing her hips, then stalk into more angular steps.   Vanessa Galvez, the other leading soloist, can build intensity throughout a solo dance, starting with slow, delicate footwork. Amargo’s singers are charismatic, from belting numbers to gentler crooning.    

The show’s more experimental numbers are often awkward. Stripped to their underwear, his dancers writhe across the stage, wriggling under a lowered lighting rig. In the sequence “The Blacks”, oppressed people stare out at the camera, lines of white paint sloshed over their bodies. Another scene is dominated by film of flowers, daffodils slowly opening. The dancers skip about in sneakers, doing bland contemporary steps.    The show’s pacing is choppy. It lurches from one number to the next, with false endings and odd transitions. Amargo is always ready to come back to his public.     Run ended.

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