Sunday 16 July 2023

Dance: A masculine double-bill

Gala Flamenca
direction Manuel Liñán
dancers Manuel Liñán, Alfonso Losa, El Yiyo, Carrete de Málaga
singers Sandra Carrasco, Antonio Campos, David Carpio 
guitars Francisco Vinuesa, Javier Ibañez
percussion Kike Terrón
Sadler's Wells, London • 14-15.Jul.23

Capping off this year's Flamenco Festival at Sadler's Wells is an energetic performance cleverly devised by Manuel Liñán to subvert gender roles with all male dancers. Bursting with intent, this is a heady combination of rapid-fire footwork, vivid arm shaping, lavish guitar riffs, pulsing percussion, soaring vocals, and dextrous shawl and ruffle-ography. The skill and power on display are simply breathtaking, and the thrumming shoes accompany the live music to thrillingly rattle our bones.

In addition to performing in group numbers that have an improvisational zing to them, each of the dancers and musicians gets their moment in the spotlight, with extended, increasingly jaw-dropping performances that are cheered along by the others on stage as well as an audience that can't help but shout, "Olé!" every now and then. Each piece builds to its own series of triumphant climaxes and encores.

This is a show that spans the history of flamenco with its careful mix of musicians, singers and dancers. The simmering vocals of Carrasco sound both ancient and modern at the same time. And dancers range from staggeringly precise youngster El Yiyo (aka Miguel Fernández Rivas) to the 83-year-old Carrete de Málaga, a shameless showman who is known as "the gypsy Fred Astaire". In the centrepiece role, Liñán performs in various styles, capping the event with an extended showstopping number in traditional but all-black female flamenco dress.

It's a mesmerising evening essentially laid out as a variety event that highlights a range of first-rate skills while also playing with the masculinity that's inherent in flamenco, something that is of course referenced right there in the show's title. This by no means belittles the colourful talent of female dancers, but instead celebrates the skills that often lurk in the monochrome shadows.

Tocar a un Hombre
by Julio Ruiz
chroeographed and performed by Julio Ruiz, Javier De La Asunción
Lilian Bayliss Studio, Sadler's Wells, London • 14.Jul.23

A staggeringly inventive experimental piece, Julio Ruiz's Tocar a un Hombre (To Touch a Man) spirals around issues of masculinity with a flamenco sensibility. And it offers ideas that extend further into society. This is an insinuating, often very sexy performance that feels like the tracing of a relationship between two men through a full range of physical and emotional interaction.

Ruiz and his partner De La Asunción are on the stage as the audience enters. They're just standing there, watching passively, doing little warm-up movements. Then as the lighting shift, they notice each other and begin a series of greetings: nodding, waving, shaking hands, hugging, kissing. These are thoroughly masculine, as awkwardness mingles with both intimacy and rivalry. Then De La Asunción removes all of his clothing and Ruiz plays him like a beloved percussion instrument before carefully dressing him back up.

From here they begin to move, both in sync and against each other, taking turns leading or being limp, sometimes passively put into poses. Ruiz dons the dance shoes sitting in one corner and performs a series of thunderous flamenco steps. De La Asunción picks up a trombone in another corner and plays a lilting tune. He also at one point sings I've Got You Under My Skin. And in the most powerful moment, he simply repeats, "Nadie te va a querer como yo" (no one will ever love you like I do), over and over again while Ruiz performs around him.

Soft Spanish dialog is translated in amplified voiceover, which is rather jarring. And there's some piped-in music that recreates the feel of a lively outdoor festival. Dance styles range from pure flamenco to street performance, TikTok moves and a disco nightclub. Energy levels ebb and flow, burst and subside. Through all of this, both men allow their distinct personalities to emerge in ways that are lusty, tender and thoroughly involving. So the piece becomes deeply moving and powerfully provocative.

For information, visit SADLER'S WELLS >

photos by Paco Lobato, marcosGpunto,
Beatrix Mexi Molnar, Juan Carlos Toledo
(NB. Tocar a un Hombre images are

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