Gala Flamenca 2017 at Sadler’s Wells

Sadler’s Wells bill their Gala Flamenca as “one of the highlights of each year’s Flamenco Festival” and they are right.  It is a show built around people who have won prizes at the previous year’s competitions and festivals in Spain.  This means that you get a bit of everything and you get to see people who are the rising stars, in the view of the aficionados in Spain.  That’s why we love it and this year’s was no exception.

In 2017, there were four dancers, the Gypsy dancer Juana Amaya, Olga Pericet, Jesús Carmona and Patricia Guerrero.  Then there was a guest appearance from singer, Rocío Márquez who had a bit of the Ellie Gouldings about her.  (Or, was it Joss Stone – young, female, long hair and accessible music.)  She did her own concert during the Festival as well as appearing with the company.  She has an amazing voice and sings very traditionally but also a lot of powerful songs which seem much more accessible.  I did feel that I would be able to follow the story she told if only I could understand the Spanish, whereas normally you can’t understand singers of cante.

In addition, there were two excellent guitarists, Daniel Jurado and Victor “El Tomato”, Paco Vega on percussion and Herminia Borja, Miguel Lavi and Jonathan Reyes adding to the singing. Unusually, Paco Vega was presented like a rock drummer, sitting at the back on a raised platform, albeit with a more clearly Flamenco drums and beat boxes.  Herminia Borja seemed quite old in this young company but, boy, could she pack a punch, including when she was duetting with Rocío.

The dancers danced together at the start and at the finish, perfectly in synch with the one another and thrilling to watch.  They then took turns to do some of the classic Flamenco dances and they were all very good.

Patricia Guerrero is tall and elegant and danced in a white dress with a relatively long tail as well as with a large red shawl so she manipulated both shawl and tail at the same time.  This was very impressive, particularly as she made it look so easy.  I was intrigued to see that she then bent down and hooked the tail of the dress up, converting it into a dress with a full skirt so she could do another dance in it.  Ingenious.

Olga Pericet was very small.  She danced in a man’s costume as well as in a red dress with a red and white shawl.  She was strong but I think Mercedes Ruíz, earlier in the week, was stronger when dancing the man’s dance.

Juana Amaya had a very different style from the others, seeming less polished and precise, perhaps.  I guess that is what they mean by “gypsy”.  However, for all that she was strong and exciting and passionate.

Jesus Carmona came on in one of those black hats with a brim but a fairly flat crown (like a squashed top hat).  He danced with it for a while and then gave the hat to Rocio Marquez took it off stage in one of her wanderings off and on.  He was strong and an exciting dancer but there wasn’t enough of him and of male dancing, given the number of women.

In fact, that would be my only quibble this year.   There seemed to be a dearth of traditional male dancers and companies of dancers where their formation dancing is so powerful.  I miss that.  The women are getting stronger and stronger and I like that too but there is a difference when you have a really strong male dancer.  When they dance together, playing off one another, that is great.  I wouldn’t like that on its own either – I’d just like some of it.

All being well, the Flamenco Festival will be back in 2018 and with it a Gala Flamenca.

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Let Mercedes Ruiz dance for you if you get the chance

Cia. Mercedes Ruiz presented “Déjame que te baile” (“Let me dance for you”) as part of the 2017 Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells.  Mercedes Ruiz is one of the most renowned Flamenco dancers of Jerez and she claims her new piece is a declaration of love to the audience.

The performance started at least 10 minutes late.  However, the show went on until 9.10, giving us the promised 90 minutes without an interval.  If you go to the festival, you will find that this is very common – at least 90 minutes without a break and starting late, so plan your loo visits accordingly!

This production featured Mercedes Ruiz and her company.  She had one guitarist, one percussionist, two singers (both called David!) and two men for clapping!  I kid you not.  The ninety minutes seemed to fly by and that is not always the case.  I recommend her unreservedly if you get a chance to see her.

After the Israel Galván in the first week, it was for us like moving from the ridiculous to the sublime.  Classical Flamenco at its very best.  She was very good, even when she did what was traditionally a man’s dance where she demonstrated strong stamping.  The guitarist was good too and the two singers.  I preferred David Lagos to David Carpio because the latter’s voice seemed a bit whinier to me.

Mercedes had a new outfit for every dance.  She started in pale blue with white lace sleeves and bodice, quite a full skirt with self-coloured ruffles, for the Milonga-Garrotín.  Then a matador suit in a red material, complete with little jacket, for the male dance, Martinete.  Then a white dress with a pink lace overtop, like a shawl but permanently in place, and a train of at least 3 feet for the kicking around for the Alegrías.  Then a black crushed velvet dress that seemed quite straight but which had a deceptively full skirt as Flamenco dresses often do, with long sleeves and a high neck at the front but a plunging back, fringed with a deep surround of golden lace, again like a shawl, for the Soleá.  Finally, for the fiesta a dress with red flowers and layers of frills around the skirt – and a proper shawl for dancing with.

Suffice it to say, she can dance for me anytime!

Israel Galván, FLA.CO.MEN, at Sadler’s Wells

On Thursday 16 February 2017, we went to see the opening offering of Sadler’s Wells 2017 Flamenco Festival.  Called FLA.CO.MEN and staged by Israel Galván, it was not your standard flamenco; rather it was flamenco as conceptual art, avant-garde flamenco and the theatre aficionados were on the edge of their seats.  Literally.  On my left, next to me after the couple between us had taken advantage of a blackout to scarper, a grey-haired stout man sat forward eager to catch every nuance and the woman behind had to ask him to sit back so she could see even a little.

I think the point was that the show subverted or played with the forms of Flamenco.  It certainly emphasised the link between the music and the body movement, the body itself being used as a percussion instrument at times and at others the stamping of the feet used directly to beat a drum.  It was supposed to be all about freeing the music from the constraints of a narrative but it seemed like there was a narrative to me – learning flamenco steps and movements.  It broke the fourth wall, bringing performers to the front of the stage at a particular section to sing, dance or play the stage as a drum and plunging us all into darkness for a considerable time just hearing the percussion from Galván’s feet – or from bits of the stalls auditorium he found to play.  If that was a section where we could see nothing; there was also a section where we could hear nothing.  “Silencio!” called one of the singers; and it fell on the theatre – silence.  It was towards the end. People started to get nervous.  Should we be applauding?  One person made a feeble attempt to start us clapping.  We stayed silent. And, then, they carried on with the final scenes.

Even so, the music was often very good: a section that was very Indian, another that sounded Polynesian, both working really well with the tones of the cante.  The xylophone was amazing and sang under its player.  The two singers were incredible, complimenting each other with their different tones and providing evocative, emotional moments.  However, often the music was just an atonal cacophony or loud, loud drums.

There were some other flashes of brilliance.  Israel Galván has strength in the stamping and tremendous form and line even when executing moves that were more martial arts or yoga than flamenco.  At the same time, there were some just weird bits: the section in total darkness, silence, throwing paper around, smashing a plaster foot.  There is a thin line between genius and self-indulgence and for me it walked too often on the self-indulgent side.  It probably didn’t help that I didn’t get the jokes – and people did laugh – which were rather slapstick.  I was very glad when it was over.

If you have a chance to see the show or Israel Galván, should you go?  If you love traditional Flamenco cante, guitar, percussion and dance, maybe not – save your pennies and pounds for another day.  However, if you like more experimental theatre experiences, you will probably love this and wonder what my problem was.  Enjoy!

A new talent … and memories

We had a great night out on Friday: dinner at deVine, Elaine Paige concert at the State Theatre and an amazing new talent: New Zealand’s Nic Kyle. He nearly stole the night – brave of Elaine to gift him that but then I suppose it was in part the surprise and unexpected nature of it. We got what we expected from Elaine but, Nic, well, wow!

But, first, dinner. I like deVine, which is on the corner of Market Street and Clarence Street in Sydney’s CBD.  It has a great wine list and the food – Italian style – is always tasty. It is a moody place, quite dark, and, on a Friday night, busy and loud.  However, the sardines for the entrée (starter for my British friends) were very tasty and the egg papardelle with duck  ragout & crisp sage were scrumptious.  And I went for an Austrian – yes, Austrian, not a mistyped Australian – red wine for a change: 2006 Cabernet Merlot , Hartl Amicus, from Niederoesterreich. Find moreabout deVine here.

The State Theatre on Market Street, Sydney, is stunning.  It was built in 1929 with spacious, high-ceilinged foyers and staircases covered with elaborate gilt decoration, accented in red. We had seats in the second row of the dress circle, which is great viewing. Catch a look at the virtual tour here.

Elaine Paige is nearing the end of a tour of New Zealand and Australia. She did two 50-minute halves of old favourites with a couple of new songs thrown and a quarter-set of jazz numbers. We liked her dramatic performances of her classic numbers best and my favourites were those I’d personally seen her sing on stage: Nobody’s Side and I know him so well from Chess and As if we never said goodbye from Sunset Boulevard.

It was interesting experiencing her artistic choices.  I thought Don’t cry for me, Argentina was a bit fast and then All that Jazz was just in a very odd arrangement, which just lost the rhythmic finger-clicking that we all know from the film and most recent stage productions. However, it also seems to me that a singer should try new things.

She tackled Dreamed a Dream, from Les Misérables and made even more famous by Susan Boyle’s first appearance on Britain’s Got Talent. Her performance captured the raw anguish and heart-break of the moment better than most I’ve seen in the last year or so – and that includes several London stage versions.

She also sang The Closest Thing to Crazy, the Mike Batt song that launched Katie Melua onto the waiting world when Katie was 19. It was a choice that could have been designed to irritate Graham, a fan of the original. However, it was a great performance.  My only argument was that, as well as changing the musical arrangement, I thought it would have been a moving addition to change the lyric. “Feeling 22, acting 17” is all very well for Katie but it could have made it a whole different story to sing: feeling 62, acting 17! And, I know it’s not polite to ask a lady’s age – but the emotion that could stir would be worth it! I’m tempted to try it at my next Karaoke, feeling 52, but I don’t want to have to wait 20 years for my next Karaoke! Think about it… Joke!

Graham was cock-a-hoop, having predicted her closing group of songs: Memories from Cats and Just One Look from Sunset Boulevard.

OK, I’m drivelling on and still haven’t got to NIC KYLE.  Yes, that’s how you spell it: all sub-editors and bloggers, please copy.

After a brief overture, he opened the show, setting the scene for Evita’s big number with an awesome version of Oh, what a circus! Eat your hearts out, David Essex and Antonio Banderas! He dueted with Elaine on Nobody’s Side from Chess. He nailed Sunset Boulevard. He then stole the show twice: in the first half with a version of Burn for You, the John Farnham hit; and in the second with a dramatic rendition of Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar.  What impresses me most, thinking back on it, is that I didn’t know those songs very well and yet I was still amazed by the performance. The man has a great voice, presence and dramatic skill. Cast him in something big, someone!

Here’s where you can find more about him.  Enjoy!

Making the world dance, go Jessie!

One thing and another means that I am commenting on the London 2012 Closing Ceremony over 24 hours after it started.  So, I thought I’d just comment on my favourite things in a blog rather than writing lots of small entries.  These are my highlights.  What are yours?

Emeli Sandé – the other Adele – I wonder if she was just a few years late to use her own first name?  What a voice!

Timothy Spall – as Churchill – well, he had to be there and his words drew a long thread between the opening and the closing.

Ray Davies and Waterloo Sunset – I liked that. Great part of the day in London.

Poor Elbow – a bit lost to the TV audience as all the athletes came in – but I guess they enjoyed being there.

George Michael – a little flat, especially compared to what the others did – why no props, George?

Eric Idle’s “Always look on the bright side”, inspiring performance, inspired production – except: the Indian dancers?  Did that do injustice to either Eric or the dancers and their tradition?

And from the dead – John Lennon in never before seen footage of Imagine – ah! And Freddie – Mercury of course – able to get thousands of people going even from beyond the grave.

In contrast to George, lots of performers used props to great advantage.  I didn’t really get Annie’s ghost ship, the Pet Shop Boys channelled Spanish church societies and, therefore, the Klu Klux Klan; and part of the fashion floats echoed Berlin 1936.  However, what about that Tinie Tempah and Taio Cruz in their Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupés (yes, I had to look that up!) and the Spice Girls in – and on – their appropriately decorated London taxis.

Of course, Brian May didn’t need any props to sound like a huge rock band – but he wore a coat with badgers and foxes to bring his other interests to the attention of a HUGE TV audience.

And finally a Welsh male voice choir to represent the more traditional music with the gospel choir, the orchestra and the colliery band.

I liked the samba and the colour of the Rio preview.

Then there was the moving standing ovation for the volunteers.

Who writes Seb Coe’s speeches?  They are brilliant!  Maybe he shouldn’t take a higher peerage but leave the Lords and stand for Prime Minister!

I loved the idea of the Olympic flame built from petals carried in by the nations and being given to them to take home.  And, the phoenix rising as it lowered was a wonderful image with all the dancers.

The Who did a good job to close it all out on a rock rhythm.  I thought for a minute there they were going to do a CSI set!

But Jessie J, eh? Perfect voice; enthusiastic, happy persona filling the stadium; making the world dance; writing on the stars with Tinie Tempah; and, oh my word, pulling off a personal but respectful vocal for We will rock you.  Yes, you will!