Spanish National Dance Company, Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Its title may be a bit of a mouthful for non-Spanish-speakers, but Lope de Vega's play Fuenteovejuna is terse and exhilarating, based on a real event that took place in 15th-century Cordoba. Translated into dance by Antonio Gades, first for his own company (which brought the production to Glasgow in 1997) and now for the Spanish National Dance Company, the drama loses none of its power. Rather, it acquires an extra dimension as a showcase for Spain's fabulously varied folk culture, the different regional dances symbolising human individuality. It becomes a powerful visual statement, from Pedro Moreno's spare but evocative setting of chairs, boxes and staves, to the closing series of frozen Goyaesque tableaux recapping the events. The dancers are terrific, young and old, their age span a satisfyingly realistic mirror of a community. They move with won- derful verve in sweeping circles and lines, in jaunty clusters and powerful blocks.

This is the story of Fuenteovejuna (The Sheep Well), a town whose inhabitants, led by the Mayor (Juan Mata), unite against the tyranny of their local Commander (Francisco Velasco). Daily life, the wedding of the Mayor's daughter Laurencia to Frondoso and the arrival of the Commander are expressed through the jumpy vigour of a jota, the slow stateliness of court dance, the light grace of a sevillanas. The initial confrontation between the Mayor and the Commander is a foot-stamping zapateado duel, end- ing with the Commander throwing down the Mayor's stick of office. When the former rapes Laurencia (Tamara Lopez) and imprisons Frondoso (Christian Lozano), everybody rises up to kill the tyrant.

The narrative is told with a succinct clarity and urgency that owes much to a vivid visual shorthand. When the townsfolk bid goodbye to the Commander as he leaves on an official mission, their unison gesture behind his back is a rude raised arm that we all understand. The rape is conducted in stylised slow motion, only yards away from a simultaneous flamenco hand-clapping ensemble which acquires the gratingly ironic significance of congratulatory applause. Most memorable is the staging of Laur- encia's escape and the gathering of the townswomen behind her. They become her replicas, dishevelled and demanding justice. When the inhabitants kill the Commander with their pitch-forks and rakes, a voice asks who killed him. No one replies; they all did. With his body slumped in a corner, they go back to their quiet, quotidian lives, the murder implements reverting to working the land.

The only pity is the recorded music and singing. This means that when real solo singers appear on stage you are never sure if they're actually singing or mouthing. But maybe you need just one drawback, otherwise it would be just too overwhelmingly perfect.

To 22 June (020-7863 8000)