A load of old cape and bull

DANCE

After the first leg of Ballet Madrid's first season over here, one thing is clear. Someone at the Spanish Embassy must have tipped them the wink that the Brits are hot for flamenco. For I cannot believe that the local audience for a company calling itself the community (comunidad) ballet of Madrid really turns out regularly to see dances that mimic every last, burned-out, cliche of touristic Spanish dance: females in shawls who huff and flounce, men who strut and smirk and preen, couples whose idea of a tense, emotional encounter is to prowl round each other like cape and bull. This is a foreigner's Spain. But to judge by the excited response at the Peacock Theatre this week, Victor Ullate is more than just the company's director, choreographer-in-chief, and head of its training school. He is also a very shrewd businessman.

You might think ballet and flamenco a rum kind of marriage, and I'm not sure that Ullate proves otherwise, but there are many distin- guished precedents for ball- etic mergers with Iberia. Think of Petipa's Don Quix- ote, or the Spanish dances in Act III of Swan Lake. But in such cases there's never any doubt we're watching ballet. The first piece in Ballet Madrid's all-Ullate programme, Ven que te tiente (literally, "come, let me hold you") treads a watery middle-ground between the two dance forms.

Straight arms swing free of the rounded port de bras of classical dance; extended legs supply elevation, not rhythm. It's weird to be hearing the anguished growl of flam- enco singer Carmen Linares at the same time as seeing dancers soaring in airy arcs like thistledown. Earth and air don't mix.

The ballet opens on a chap in a smart 1920s jacket walking about reading a book. He, I guessed, was the poet Lorca, who in real life spent a lot of time hanging around village squares notating Spanish folk songs. It might have helped to have given us the texts to them. The Spanish folk duly come on like the gangs in West Side Story - a wave of young hoodlums in singlets and tight trousers, fists clenched, hips thrust out ready for a fight, followed by a wave of girls flaunting their charms in fringed low-cut dresses, to trigger the action and act out the songs. It's all very picturesque, danced around a barrage of suspended scenery: a stone cottage com-plete with shrine and obligatory bead curtain. Some of the dancing is stunning, but the work as a whole does not rise above choreographic tourism, reducing the rough and gutsy original to a glossy postcard.

The next piece seemed to promise a more serious approach to Flamenco. Tras el Espejo ("Through the Mirror") is intended as a homage to Spain's most popular dancer ever, Carmen Amaya. Ballet Madrid's Rut Mir certainly looks sensational as she enters with imperious slowness in a dress of stiff white satin, her wondrously arched back reflected in a large cheval mirror behind.

But our awe is short-lived. Trailing behind her is what looks like a splurge of Mr Whippy ice-cream, which turns out to be a ruffled dress train, 40 feet long. The audience giggles, and it's downhill from then on. Mir steps out of her satin casing to reveal a catwoman leotard, and launches into a complicated floor routine (partly on all fours) which, though impressive in its lithe control of limbs and pelvic tilts in curious positions, wouldn't look amiss in a peep show.

How all this connects with a dance star of the 1940s I will never know, since the printed programme devoted six pages to a history of Madrid but offered not a word about the pieces.

Hearteningly, the full 22-strong company returns for the final piece, Jaleos, a thing of pure technique - brittle and brilliant. To a ticking, electronic score that seems to be timing each dancer's work-out like a stopwatch, dancers show off their immaculate schooling in synchronised sequences of elevated split-jumps and high-speed pirouettes. Ullate has drilled this handsome company to the nth degree. Perhaps this week's programme - which includes the work of other choreographers - will give that technique a more interesting context.

Peacock Theatre, WC2 (0171 314 8800), Mon-Sat.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent