Sara Baras, Sadler's Wells, London

Sara Baras made flamenco box-office history last year in a show that ran for five months in Madrid. Its arrival at Sadler's Wells is bringing the house down
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The Independent Culture

When God was handing out talents, he must have tripped when he reached Sara Baras and dropped the lot into her lap. Not only did she grow up to become, by her mid-30s, the almost-undisputed flamenco queen of her generation (for such a matter to be settled would mean that flamenco wasn't the hot, happening force it now is in Spain), but she also runs her own troupe, choreographs her own shows, lights them, directs them and designs the fabulous threads she stands up in. In short, Baras is phenomenal. Dance has never had so much bang for its buck.

Sabores, "flavours", first came to Sadler's Wells in 2006. The following year the show made flamenco history with a record-breaking five-month run in Madrid. Flamenco doesn't normally do runs. It's a spontaneous art form, not The Mousetrap. But Baras's genius is to have devised a sturdy framework of slick set pieces within which the mysterious embers of solitary inspiration can be fanned and take fire. There's no story, no theatrics, no pretend peasants banging on the floor with sticks. This is flamenco for the 21st century: streamlined and sure of itself. Sure too, of its right to merge musically with whatever influences it fancies. In Sabores, you'll hear traditional canto – the rasping, melismatic "deep song" that seems to summon centuries of oppression – but you'll also hear hints of tango nuevo and a style I can only describe as lounge, performed with terrific verve by an onstage seven-piece band.

Neither an outright moderniser nor a purist, Baras has developed a markedly personal style. Just as she has banished the frills and flounces of traditional dress, her dance pares away the more flowery aspects of flamenco gesture to create a long, lean line, almost boyish, with the emphasis not in the hips but in the feet.

Generously, she makes her first appearance alongside her two male guests, then gives each a number to himself. Luis Ortega, skinny and wolfish in drainpipes and a long, Lorca-era jacket, devotes his to a seguiriya, using castanets to set up a polyrhythmic call-and-response with his feet. José Serrano is looser, more playful, wrenching back the shoulders of his jacket, strutting and flirting with the crowd.

But it is Baras that we have come for. Still as sleek and fierce as a lynx, she has doubled in authority since her last visit, surrendering herself even more to that dark force the Spanish call duende. Suddenly, it ceases to be about entertainment. It's the stuff of life itself: anger, frustration, surprise, roof-lifting joy and more. As Baras turboes the full width of the stage in a heel-drilling moonwalk, her controlled diminuendo seems to challenge the Earth to stop spinning.



Sadler's Wells (0844 871 0090) until Sat



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