Flamenco Festival 2022 at Sadler’s Wells
After a three-year hiatus, the extravaganza of fancy footwork, the Flamenco Festival, stepped back onto the stage at Sadler’s Wells. Compañia Manuel Liñán’s ¡Viva! opened the season. This was a show that had clearly been forming throughout Liñán’s lifetime so far. He has shared memories of hiding himself away to dance in female dresses as a very small child. Who can blame him? The accoutrements of flamenco are enchanting, with the shawls, the frills, the swishing long plaits, flamboyant hair combs and jewellery. Now, with his all-male troupe, he gets to dress and dance the way he has always dreamed.
Liñán is a powerhouse at the centre of his group, his mic’d up heels making beats of speeds that seem impossible, especially as his upper torso remains so controlled. His dancing is an interesting blend of power and control. Each of the six other dancers are given solo set pieces that reflect their personalities. Slender and willowy Hugo López is heartbreaking and funny: making full use of his long legs and elegant profile, he was beguiling and likable. Jonatan Miró performed a solo that was bawdy and earthy. His character (or the projection of a certain part of himself) is both seductive and defiant. A fierce face and determined style that was the opposite to Lopez’s fragility and yet they both connected with the audience. All the dancers were phenomenal but those two, alongside Liñán himself, stood out.
At one hour 40 minutes with no interval, the show ran somewhat long but the dancing was exciting. The ending suggests that all we have seen takes place in the dreams of a small boy who likes dresses. It is personal and moving. Excitingly, while getting a taxi a while after the show, we saw the troupe sashay past still in formation (with Liñán at the head, naturally,) presumably on the look for some food and London nightlife. After that glimpse and the show, it left an intrigue of wanting to know more about them and what they will do next. This show was the highlight of the season.
However, there was plenty more to see and hear. Five-time Latin Grammy award-winning guitarist Tomatito appeared in concert, playing his signature mix of classical Spanish, Latin American and jazz styles. He is an intriguing figure: his incendiary talent and jet-black ruggedness make for a charismatic stage presence.
Jesús Carmona’s The Jump takes a pure male flamenco style and explores “masculinity in the 21st century”. This was the show’s debut performance and was received with some ambivalence: rudely, some members of the audience did walk out. The show consisted of 14 vignettes, some surreal, and some showcasing Carmona’s exceptional footwork and quebradas.
The performances closed with An Ode to Time by Compañía María Pagés. This ambitious show encompassed many influences and references from Pablo Neruda’s poetry, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, Francisco Goya and Hebe, the ancient Greek goddess of youth, to name but a few. Pagés is now 58 and established her own company some thirty years ago but shows no sign of slowing down her creativity or work ethic: she recently won the 2022 Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts. An Ode to Time comprises 12 chapters and is accompanied by sounds of feet, hands, castanets, two singers, two guitars, a violin, a cello and a cajón drum. The choreography, costume design and musical direction has all been handled by Pagés, while her husband, El Arbi El Harti, helped to direct and wrote some of the music used.
The show opens with Pagés, the lustrous dark hair so synonymous with flamenco dancers allowed to naturally grey, with a traditional deep-red dress on. She has been called “María of the endless arms”, a reference not to their length but their way of never letting the movement entirely stop, suggesting that the movement is going through the body rather than being created by it. It looks soft but is actually the hardest thing to master and requires a great deal of muscle power to isolate and execute that amount of control. The show, again, is a long one in terms of non-linear narrative dance, at one hour and 40 minutes, and is hard to follow for non-Spanish speakers. However, no one can deny the ambition and power at work.
This was a joyous and adventurous programme that showcased the raw and enigmatic art form in new and sometimes challenging ways. There is something elemental to flamenco. It is not a natural storytelling medium, it feels looser and more impressionistic than traditional narrative, more a vessel for powerful feelings and the pure joy of movement.