House of Flamenka at Peacock Theatre
There’s no denying that the Spanish can be purists about their cultural exports and flamenco is no exception. The mixed reception given to artists such as Rosalia being a case in point, despite her world domination with a unique take on the music and dance tradition that fuses it with Latin and pop. Wondering, then, what the purists would make of House of Flamenka is anyone’s guess. But from this lay audience member, it was simply spectacular.
Fusing flamenco with contemporary dance, set to Rosalia-esque beats and delivered in a high-camp burlesque style, is an unashamed mash-up of old and new. Gender stereotypes are flipped, played with and made fluid, with a chorus of male dancers scantily clad in raunchy kink-tinged outfits, variously paired with fans, boleros and tutus, orbiting around renowned flamenco artist Karen Ruimy. Akin to the Matthew Bourne sphere of choreography, old-fashioned approaches of dancers being uniform and precise are cast aside, while difference and imperfection are embraced and celebrated – made a feature, not a flaw – as contrasting body types, ethnicities and individual styles are all included. Adrongyny, hypermasculinity and seductive eroticism make for an intoxicatingly subversive shake-up of the norm.
The show, however, wasn’t wholly convincing from the off. Initially, all the elements the production wanted to achieve seemed thrown together, kitchen sink style, and the disparate dance forms and music, with Ruimy singing into the mic, at first felt jarring and gimmicky, an onslaught on the senses. But whether it was a case of the audience acclimatising or the world of the show needing time to draw us in, number by number, its idiosyncratic approach began to slot into place, the cynicism fell away and the genius of its fusion fully landed.
It perhaps also took time to get into its unique rhythm – rather than a storytelling narrative, such as the Bourne productions take on, House of Flameka was more a cabaret style of self-enclosed numbers, each with a different make-up of the ensemble and different costumes, with its own mini story of high drama and passion. It was at its strongest when more stripped back and a sense of character and emotion could cut through the mayhem, with a stunning homoerotic duet, and a tap and flamenco dance-off providing some of the highlights. The agility, skill and showmanship of the troupe was truly off the scale.
Created and directed by the legendary Arlene Philips, whose long list of smash-hit credits includes Starlight Express, Grease, Guys and Dolls, with work from award-winning choreographer James Cousins and flamenco master Francisco Hidalgo, the experience of each from a technical aspect, and what makes for a spellbinding show, combine to stunning effect.
Bold, sexy, innovative, flamboyant, bursting with colour and infectious energy, with an empowering spirit at its heart, House of Flamenka is proof that bending the rules, reinterpreting traditional styles and bringing them blasting into the contemporary world can more than pay off. If it doesn’t leave you elated and desperate to dance, I don’t know what will.
House of Flamenka is at Peacock Theatre from 17th until 28th October 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.