Quimeras at the Sadler’s Wells
Few art forms are quite as overtly indicative of their home country as Flamenco is of Spain. It remains one of the most understudied and lonesome forms of music and dance, often too over-encumbered with connotation to be incorporated into other cultural contexts. Its identity is so strong, and indeed its marriage to the Spanish language so full, that it’s not been a mainstay of London stages in the same way that other non-British traditional music and dance have.
Paco Peña is one of flamenco’s finest ambassadors, and Quimeras is a show that contains everything he has to offer as composer, revivalist and dramatist. Furthermore, West African music and dance is integral to the piece, the central theme being an explanation of what happens when cultures meet, comparing and contrasting Spanish Flamenco with Ghanaian and Senegalese traditions. The similarities are unsurprisingly rife – the three cultures being equally obsessed with rhythm – yet it’s the contrasts that define this show. The thrilling freedom and fluidity of West Africa’s wholly individual dancers feel jarring when juxtaposed with the uniform team of almost superhuman Spanish virtuosos, furiously tapping away and learnedly swirling in unison. This is emphasised by the costume choice: the Flamenco dancers come across as a well dressed and closely choreographed gang of Iberian stewards, while their West African counterparts are more charming if a little less overwhelming. This was mirrored in the music, with the Sub-Saharan Kora (a 21-stringed, harp-like instrument) and Kalimba (thumb piano) proving loose-limbed foils to the Spanish guitars.
The show was split in two by its interval and, though technically “theatre”, involved little-to-no narrative, instead presenting a series of musical and dance-based vignettes loosely united in exploring Afro-Hispanic fusion. On display were the desperately virtuosic guitar solos of Paco Peña, a subtle patchwork of Flamenco and West African music, and some of the finest and most well schooled dancers from both camps. Though he effortlessly fuses passionate romance with mind-numbing skill like few can, the dancers ultimately usurp Peña’s role. In either case, this show displays some amazing skills from both sides of the Sahara and some of the finest entertainment currently on stage. A pure and musical patchwork of contrasting cultural high watermarks from Spain and West Africa, this show is a chimera that’s tough to resist.
Quimeras is on at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 13th July, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the promo video for Quimeras here: