DANCE / Louise Levene on dance

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Once upon a time, flamenco was as naff as a stuffed donkey. The popular image of the flamenco dancer was of a flyblown tart in a frilly polyester dress, stamping her little foot while her snake-hipped lothario gyrated around her bloated form in unnecessarily tight strides. All that has been fixed. Spain's whole image underwent a total revolution in the late Eighties: out went Benidorm and in came Barcelona. One minute the whole thing was a cult known only to Robert Elms, and next thing you knew, there was a recipe for paella in the Radio Times, the local pub was a tapas bar and your local technical college was doing flamenco evening classes (check Floodlight if you don't believe me).

Cumbre Flamenca (with a little help from Paco Pena) really taught Londoners this lesson when its visit in 1988 took the capital by storm. Before you could say alegrias, we had all learned our text from the Gospel according to Seville: that flamenco is a serious art bred in the bones of an ancient people. The big, big trouble with this kind of artistic rehabilitation is that it spoils it for the rest of us. We liked it before it was OK to like it. We weren't there on a World Music ticket. We were going to flamenco performances when the audience was composed exclusively of the London Spanish community and elderly matrons trying to recapture the magic of that Palma Nova package.

At the time it seemed a trifle ambitious of the Wells to try to sell fat, red carnations at 50p a stem, for throwing purposes. Don't be daft. We're English. We don't throw flowers at people. For two hours we sat mesmerised as an ageing gypsy with the carriage of an empress trilled her little black toes against the drum of the floor and suddenly it was raining blossoms in EC1.

Cumbre Flamenca is at Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, EC1, 20 Sept-8 Oct (071-278 8916). pounds 5-pounds 22.50

(Photograph omitted)

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