Saturday, 6 April 2019

Stage: Visceral rhythm

choreography and dance by Albert Quesada & Zoltan Vakulya
Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells, London • 4-5.Apr.19

As the title suggests, this unusually intimate performance starts with rhythm. Dancers Albert Quesada (from Spain) and Zoltan Vakulya (from Hungary) set out to deconstruct the art of flamenco, separating the elements - beat, step, movement, music, touch, audience engagement. What emerges is visceral and involving, using improvisation and interaction to explore the language of an ancient dance.

Quesada and Vakulya take turns moving on their own, sometimes with no music at all, then sharing the space and playing off each other in ways that are both emotional and humorous. Vakulya holds Quesada's head as he gyrates through a series of physically demanding moves, but who is leading whom? Quesada taps the music's rhythm on Vakulya's body, and he pulls away when it begins to hurt, but then leans back in for more.

They begin each section seated in the audience, then leap onto the floor with purpose, surrounded by observers with whom they share extended looks that shape the performance. Both are dressed in neoprene variations on a bullfighter's costume: Quesada in red and black, Vakulya in white. Their bodies have been painted, so they literally rub off on each other and the floor itself. Their movements both reflect and predict the music, full-bodied fluidity that uses every corner of the stage. Some sections are almost unnervingly silent, while others are accompanied by a thunderous score.

Experiencing this performance is unusually powerful, as the stripped-down honesty and intense proximity pull each audience member right into the middle of the work. It's astonishing to feel the power of flamenco in this way. This is a dance that traces its roots back centuries and is still evolving today. Its music and movement is iconic, so the way these dancers pull it apart is revelatory.

And after the performance, Quesada and Vakulya break the barriers even further, sitting down to chat informally about the performance, how they came to work together, how the music and dance shaped their process and, most intriguingly, the impact of their different backgrounds on the project. This evening is such a pure dance experience that the audience goes away feeling privileged to have been a part of it.

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