The Four Elements, Sadler's Wells, London

Women eclipse the men on a four-star opening for this Flamenco Festival
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The Independent Culture

Sadler's Wells starts its Flamenco Festival with a four-star show. Jacqulyn Buglisi's staging casts each of these established soloists as one of the four elements, but that's just a framing device. The point is some fierce, powerfully focused solo dancing.

Sadler's Wells starts its Flamenco Festival with a four-star show. Jacqulyn Buglisi's staging casts each of these established soloists as one of the four elements, but that's just a framing device. The point is some fierce, powerfully focused solo dancing.

The show covers several styles. Carmen Cortez, a stern woman in scarlet fringing, holds dark poses or storms through her footwork. Rocio Molina is a sinuous dancer, sweeping her skirts in off-balance turns. Carlos Rodriguez is a crossover dancer, with touches of ballet; Alejandro Granados is more traditional, stamping and glaring.

The women make most impact. The 20-year-old Molina, who has her own show later in the season, dances the water section with sleek grace. At last year's festival, she was quietly good. Since then, she's gained authority. Molina already has a traditional flamenco scowl, but she isn't aggressive or flamboyant. She's a small, plump woman, and she moves in gentle curves. Her held poses command attention, but they don't break the flow of the dance. She can take seconds to complete a back bend, pouring herself over.

Carmen Cortez is more emphatic, more stormy. She stalks into position, with angular twists and furiously pointing hands. Her footwork can be grippingly quiet. She'll take a long time to build up an ominous drum-roll, curving about the stage. In one strange sequence, she leans away from her stamping feet, moving in tilting circles like an angry spinning top.

Airy flamenco sounds like a contradiction. Carlos Rodriguez is a modernist, spinning balletic turns and adding a saxophonist to the traditional flamenco band. It's a dilution, turning the music towards softish jazz. Rodriguez is a light, quick dancer, and his line is taut and clear. Still, the turns and the stamping footwork don't always go together.

Alejandro Granados is best in the wildest stamping, with lifted knees and twisting torso. His rhythm is good, and he moves boldly. In this show, the women have a greater sense of continuity, of how to shape a complete dance. Granados's softer sequences are clear, but less commanding.

Gerardo Nunez's own guitar solo is very intricate. He leads a fine band, a mix of baying vocals, claps and delicate guitar. Buglisi's staging overdoes the elements theme, leaving the dancers shaking shells or handfuls of earth between numbers. But the finale is splendid: all four together, strutting their grandest stuff.

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