So to Sadlers Wells Theatre for the annual Flamenco Festival in north London. This time I had only returned from Jerez de la Frontera the day before and I went to see Santiago Lara and Mercedes Ruiz who hail from that city. I have written about this married couple before ( see Lamento and The Guitar in Time ) and I listen regularly to Lara’s guitar playing.
On Saturday they were performing with dancers Maria Moreno, from nearby Cadiz, and Eduardo Guerrero, who I have tried to see several times at the Jerez Festival, only to be stymied by the schedule. Accompanied by rising singing star Maria Fernandez Benitez, known as Maria ‘Terremoto’, and male singers, Emilio Florido and Ismael ‘el Bola’. They were billed as the Gala Flamenca and it was excellent.
Lara was the musical coordinator and he led the musicians on stage, a second guitarist, Javier Ibanez and percussionist, Paco Vega. The artistic director was Miguel Linan, renown dancer and regular performer at the Jerez Festival ( see Reversible ). Linan’s choreography is distinctive, although the three dancers were undoubtedly also contributors ( and listed as such ).
The programme began with Morena dancing an alegria. As is always the case with British theatre audiences, while the dancing was well received, there was little feedback between performer and audience until the end of each piece. This contrasts with watching flamenco in Jerez, when the audience is supposed, even obliged, to clap, shout encouragement and cheer during the performance. I was very pleased therefore when a particularly spectacular series of steps ended with a sweeping flourish and a spontaneous cheer from the audience. I noticed Lara, who was nearest the edge of the stage, start to smile. The performance had ‘taken’ and the audience were bound in.
The show continued with a remarkable pas de deux between the young singer, and Mercedes Ruiz. Ruiz, dressed in black, male garb performed accompanied only by the singing and her own castanets and stamping feet. She was outstanding. The audience was well and truly captured by now, so much so that Ruiz could be playful, making us laugh as well as astounding us with her artistry. How could anyone top that?
Well, then came Eduardo Guerrero, long black hair flying, in a stunning Cana. Guerrero’s arabesques were straight out of the Miguel Linan playbook, athletic, fluid and captivating. What was not was the truly amazing footwork which followed, which had the audience, by now half way to behaving like Jerezanos, applauding and cheering with every flourish. As a female member of our group said afterwards, he was gorgeous and absolutely commanding ( and the dancing was pretty good too ).
There followed another pas de deux, this time with Moreno and Guerrrero in perfect synchronicity and a final Solea from Ruiz. All three dancers returned to the stage for a rousing finale and, by the time the stage lights went down, everyone was on their feet and applauding. At the curtain calls I was pleased to see the recognition of Lara’s stunning guitar playing and Miguel Linan was also invited on stage to take the applause. He brought with him a birthday cake with lighted candles, it was the birthday of one of the company and he was persuaded to dance along with the mini-encore.
We left the theatre buzzing, but exhausted, that’s what watching flamenco does!