Rafaela Carrasco’s Compañía Rafaela Carrasco – Born a Shadow is a compelling celebration of all things feminine. The ensemble, led by Carrasco, is a mesmerising, almost warrior-like battle for selfhood, following the lives of women living within a restrictive sixteenth century society. In a gesture of legitimisation, these feminist narratives are based on real women writers, as the lyrical beauty of María de Zayas and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is finally voiced.

The letters they wrote are enlivened through fragmented modernist projections on the back of the screen, and voiceovers in Spanish. The seats in Sadler’s Wells are filled with a congregation of Spanish and Latin Americans, all paying tribute to the flamboyant, deeply rooted Flamenco tradition. Warm shrieks of “Ole!” fly around the auditorium throughout, encasing the performance with pride and communality. This flow of Spanish gives the show a sense of mystique, for those who can only grasp the odd word. Flamenco does not belong only to the professionals, like some other forms of dance, but is a thread that ties the people together.

The actual plot added little to the performance, as the words sometimes distracted attention from the dancers’ tumultuous elegance, happening in the foreground. The female writers all end up in nunneries; depressingly this is their only way to secure a stable identity and unfettered access to the world of books, as only here are they left to exist apart from the governing patriarchal forces. The visual projection resembles retro typewriter lettering, attempting to juxtapose the long buried narratives belonging to an antique era; however, this double sense of nostalgic history is not quite executed with the same level of finesse as the dancing. Nevertheless, it provides a basic framework for the dancing, informing the emotions and rhythms that colour the open stage.

The dancers are all females and the band is all male; this interesting gender interplay supports the vein of female empowerment that runs through the entirety of the Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells. The vibrant sonorous delights emerging from the pair of guitars and singing duo booms forth from the back of the stage, vying with the more dominant female presence.

Musically, the sounds span genres. The band is reassuringly traditional, whereas the pre-recorded tracks add an interesting twist through delving into the sphere of electro-jazz. This compliments the striking lighting, which silhouettes elongated shadows onto the canvas sheets that encompass the space, conjuring an entourage for the dancers.

The female figures enliven the music, whipping it vigorously into expressionist movements and sweeping twirls. The trio (O’Ryan, Angulo and Comitre) work in perfect harmony, balancing the relation between the individual and the whole with tenacious intrigue. Their jerkier moments of assertion are rendered fluid when packaged in ostentatious grace. Every gesture is performed immaculately, right down to the intricate curvature of Carrasco’s fingers.

This performance serves the audience a necessary dose of feminist glory in its purest, sassiest form.

Compañía Rafaela Carrasco – Born a Shadow played at Sadler’s Wells on 25 February 2018

Photo: Sadler’s Wells