Review: Gala Flamenca, Sadler’s Wells

As this year’s Flamenco Festival, director Angel Rojas brings us an evening at Sadler’s Wells filled with rhythmic passion that evolves into a magical liturgy of fiery flamenco dancers and the long awaited return of the Catalan gypsy dancer, La Chana.

To the soulful strings of the guitar, four flamenco dancers perform on stage taking us through hidden spheres that lead us to the heart and opening messages of devotion. El Farru’s quick, staccato movement splinters the stage, as we try to catch up with his rapid change of speed and direction. Antonia Canales commands the theatre, as he violently spins and sways his body side to side. This is a flamboyant piece that exudes drama and flair.

Chance and the beauty of spontaneity filter through each performance, it is all created at that present moment; a collage of improvised sequences. Through the power of communication, it becomes this compelling conversation between the musicians and the dancers as they wait, react and respond to one another, building songs of longing and fearless movement.

Gema Moneo reveals true mastery of traditional flamenco, with a mesmerising piece. She is a lady in white; her floral dress becomes her amour as she swipes the fabric in the air clenching her fist. With a trail of sinuous lines, her spine arches as she spirals and contorts her body, while her feet cut into the ground, with stamps, twists and flicks; she leaves her mark. Though it is the moment at the end of the piece, when the intensity begins to evaporate that we see an element of her fragility. She stands still, a sculptural figure, with her hair fallen down, poised in a pool of light.

By having the performance in a black box with a bare set, one felt the setting was disconnected from what was being created on stage. I wanted to be transported to the feelings of southern Spain where flamenco was originated, with the heat, the colours and the light and to a more intimate space within the round so that we are not so distant from the performers.

As the evening comes to a close, we wait for La Chana to appear. Supported by her musicians, she comes onto stage, placing herself on a chair, as close as she can be to the audience. It has been nearly 40 years of silence and this year she has decided to return to tell us the truth of why she vanished from the public eye. She holds the stage in her palms as she begins to meticulously thread the air with the tips of her fingers. As she searches, it is evident the language of flamenco is ingrained within her; it is in her roots. Her fast footwork becomes earthy and grounded as she digs her heels into the floor and her beaded shawl opens like black wings when she embraces us.

La Chana’s performance has this feeling of a pagan ritual as the musicians form a tight circle around her chair, their eyes never leaving her. She begins to reveal to us her inner emotions that have been sealed for so long. As she bewitches the room with her stories, haunting memories brew; tears of pain fill her eyes. While the curtain falls, she plants her love, reminding us that love is the strongest thing that exists.

Gala Flamenca played at Sadler’s Wells until 23 February 2018

Photo: Sadler’s Wells

Susie Browning

Susie Browning

Having graduated at London Contemporary Dance School, Susie Browning is now a freelance dance artist performing and choreographing. She has a passion for photography and writing poetry. In addition, she writes art reviews for her blog called Form.