Dance Review: Simplicity makes for strong theatre

Fuego Flamenco Bloomsbury Theatre, London

The walk-up can't have been huge at the Bloomsbury Theatre on a freezing cold night in the Christmas Party season, but the stalls were almost full with a keen, often knowledgeable crowd. Not that the audience was wall- to-wall aficionados: there's a first time for everything and a small but highly irritating contingent, clearly unfamiliar with the mozarabic singing style exemplified by Joaquin Escudero and Sebastian Roman, hooted with incredulous laughter whenever a cantaor struck up a howling lament.

Cuentos Flamenco is a small, unpretentious outfit composed of two dancers, two singers, two guitarists and one percussionist - although in flamenco everyone's a percussionist. The dancers, and co-founders of the company, are Talia Cohen and Alejandro Grandos. Flamenco has an innate grandeur and simplicity that enables it to transform the plainest staging into strong theatre. The skills of lighting designer Chris Clay and sound engineer Amos Christie played a large part in the evening's success.

It is hard to predict what the well-dressed bailaor will be wearing these days. Once upon a time you could put money on armpit-hugging strides, a tight waistcoat and a big girl's blouse. But a dance with its roots in one of the most stylish countries in Europe was unlikely to stick with so dated a look, and a male flamenco dancer can turn up in anything from a pair of designer jeans to an ankle length skirt. Grandos, in his first appearance, had opted for a pale grey lounge suit and loose apricot shirt. This rather untheatrical choice of costume reminds us why the old black togs became so popular: they enhanced and exaggerated the sinuous lines of the dance. When the bailaor strikes his pose, arms raised like a matador about to strike, we want to see the emphatic curve of the spine, the long taut line of the thighs, the whole body tense as a drawn bow - not the billowing folds of shirt over waistband. By the farruca Grandos was back in black.

Talia Cohen is more traditionally dressed in various ruffled frocks and demonstrates all the bad-tempered virtuosity so essential to a solea. Cohen hitches up her skirts with a spasm of crabby impatience as if her bottom were itching to dance and shake the heavy dust from her frills. Between them the two dancers created a salty and honest performance on a pleasingly intimate scale.

No doubt somewhere in some godforsaken hotel bar in Torremolinos there is such a thing as lousy flamenco but we do not on the whole tend to import it. Although the artists and production of Fuego Flamenco may not be altogether Premier League, this group of pedigree performers is a welcome reminder that there is always a lot of entertainment to be had in the First Division.

To 20 Dec. 0171-388 8822

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