Israel Galvan, Sadler’s Wells, London review: A mix of pratfalls and real exploration

WatchingLa Fiesta’ sometimes feels like being the only sober person at a party that has already gone on far too long

Monday 29 April 2019 11:22
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Israel Galvan in 'La Fiesta'
Israel Galvan in 'La Fiesta'

With La Fiesta, flamenco star Israel Galvan stages the aftershow party. A cast of nine dancers, singers and musicians tease each other, swap roles, climb on the furniture and, eventually, unleash virtuoso performances. It’s a mix of pratfalls and real exploration, with the mesmerising Galvan at its heart.

Watching La Fiesta sometimes feels like being the only sober person at a party that has already gone on far too long. That’s deliberate – Galvan has written about having to stay up to perform at his parents’ late parties, falling asleep with his eyes open. That sense of exhausting chaos spills over the stage, when another singer yowls over Alia Sellami’s performance of a Purcell aria, or everyone cracks into helpless laughter.

Yet the jokes can morph into something rich and strange. Singer Nino de Elche stamps his feet until his trousers fall down. When Galvan matches him, dancing a whole solo with his trousers tangled around his feet and ankles, a landed merman. When he kicks the fabric behind him, it suggests the traditional frilled skirt of a female dancer (something Galvan has worn himself in the past). Falling to the floor, he ripples through silky, curving moves.

Discarding the trousers, he dances in cycling shorts, kneepads and football socks – a combination that suggests stocking tops, with flowers in his hair. Two other dancers wear football kit adapted into traditional flamenco shapes: knee breeches and scarf with Adidas stripes. Images of sport or religion flit through the show.

Galvan is a brilliant, brilliant dancer. Lean and long-limbed, he has extraordinary visual rhythm. The footwork is fast and intricate from any angle – in this show, he’ll lie flat to drum with his heels, stamp through pebbles or work with sticks as well as his own feet. When he adds a high, sharp-edged kick, you can almost hear it: you see the beats he isn’t sounding.

Then you have to imagine the beats you aren’t seeing, because he also dances behind an upturned table, visible only from the waist up. He’s a superb percussionist, and a tease, frustrating the audience’s expectations. (They don’t all put up with it: there were plenty of walkouts.)

This is a show where even the furniture can’t be taken for granted, shaking or collapsing when the performers dance on top. Those wobbly legs add a shimmering rattle to the stamped footwork, a new sound conjured from disorder.

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