Guitarrísimo: Santiago Lara — Flamenco Tribute to Pat Metheny

Wednesday 22nd of February – Sadlers Wells

Well. Not one for the purists. As we trooped in to the small and intimate Lilian Bayliss studio we were greeted by the site of a piano and a drum kit. a piano! No no this won’t do, this won’t do at all, what does Santiago Lara think he’s playing at. Flamenco with all it’s heart wrenching emotional power and jazz, whose where-on-earth-is-it-going-to-go-next rhythms are the epitome of life itself, I can’t see this working. Indeed, after the first song Lara gracefully acknowledges the audience by saying good night, it doesn’t seem quite right.

Well. One standing ovation later, to the sounds of whooping and hollering and other more traditional Spanish noises, I can honestly say that this was some of the most beautiful guitar playing I have ever heard. Lara’s playing was masterful on every song, sometimes driving flamenco power, sometimes light jazzy flourishes that were ably accompanied by the piano (which deliberately or not seemed much quieter in the mix) and drums.

Even with jazz rhythms and breaks, the guitar playing was unmistakably flamenco and it perfectly skipped over the top or drove through the accompaniment with joyful results

Mercedes Ruiz came out for a couple of songs, and perfectly complimented the jazz infused music with some powerfully elegant dancing, that reconfirmed my feelings from the night before, that Flamenco is one of the most sensual dances in the world. Mix it with Jazz however, and that is something beautifully different.


Cía. Mercedes Ruiz — Déjame que te baile

Tuesday 21st Feb at Sadlers Wells

This was a slow burner. Mercedes Ruiz in all her pomp, starting with fingers clicking, her arms swaying hypnotically or even at times snapping with the music, an unflamenco touch that suited the night, that built up into a virtuouso performance with Flamenco elegance and passionate power . The accompanying guitar was soft, the voices and clapping audible but meant to underline the dancing, not distract from it.

Watching Ruiz early on I was mesmerised as usual by the movement, trying to think of the right word for Flamenco. But I couldn’t come up with just one. There is power, there is passion, but as I watched the arms, fingers the body strut and sway, it was the dress that caught my eye. For an instant it reminded me of a snake, but a snake as a temptation of something good.the dress slid with a languid uncoiling around those stomping feet, but there was nothing dark, it was altogether sensual.
At other times, arms raised like a bull, there was sheer power in Ruiz’s performance, she clearly commanded the floor, strutting like a bird with prize plumage through each song.

One of the costume changes saw Ruiz appear in a red suit, that she owned as well as an many male flamenco dancer would hope to do. It was wonderful, the power slipped into elegance, as the trousers allowed the audience to see the technical side of the woman’s dance, normally so well concealed underneath the traditional dress.

As usual the guitar and accompanying singers had their own moments, but it was Ruiz herself that powered the show and at the end, she rightly drew the appreciation of the packed hall that burned with more than a little Flamenco fever.

Thriller Live

An all singing, all dancing revue of Michael Jackson’s music career, It couldn’t be Bad could it? Sorry.

Sitting somewhere between a tribute act and a Top of the Pops MJ special, Thriller live delivered the greatest hits of the King of Pop in his unique and thrilling style across the stage of a packed Lyric Theatre.
Starting with the Jackson 5, through to the Jacksons before concentrating on Thriller and Bad, a variety of singers, from the young Kyle Johnson to the fantastic Trenyce Cobbins, who performed a brilliant version of The Way You Make Me Feel, one of my favourite MJ tracks, belted out hit after hit while the dancers performed in homage to the classic videos and choreography of the man himself.  From ABC, I’ll be there, Can you feel it, Beat It, She’s out of my life, to Man in the Mirror, Dangerous and Dirty Diana, the costumes, voices and dancers all screamed Michael.

Smooth Criminal was perfectly recreated on the stage, MJ in his white suited, trilby wearing glory as he kicked, whirled, and crotch grabbed his way through the bar.  Thriller and Billie Jean were, as expected, highlights and finally got the sluggish Friday night crowd out of their seats.

A couple of songs failed to hit the bar though, Don’t stop till you get enough and Wanna be starting something didn’t quite sound as good, and I left with the feeling that there could have been more.  But on reflection perhaps not, Michael’s personal life was under intense scrutiny while he was alive and for once it was enough to sit back and enjoy his legacy as one of the greatest performers of our time, and an inspiration to countless numbers of people around the world, and no, it wasn’t Bad at all.

Details here

Farruquito – Abolengo

I’m a bit late with this one, having seen it last week but sometimes life rushes up on you, blows past and leaves you in it’s wake trying to tidy up the pieces.  Anyhoo, we were back up in the gods of Sadlers Wells for the second Flamenco show of the weekend, Abolengo by Farruquito.  Hailed by the New York Times as ‘one of the greatest Flamenco dancers of the century, Farruquito was a return to Flamenco Puro, compared to Friday nights excursion into Flamenco Ballet.

He did not disappoint. The very image of Latin masculinity in shiny shoes, Farruquito clutched his jacket while his feet skipped and stomped with all the power and pomp of a prize bull.  He flew around the stage, gesturing imperiously to the rapturous audience, again including a healthy dose of Spanish, throughout the show.  Complimented by three male singers, and Encarnita Anillo who drew some of the most enthusiastic clapping of the night when she hitched up her skirts and stamped back to her seat with the lone female dancer, Karime Amaya, who herself was amply on par with the hot footed Farruquito, and I would have to say is probably one of the greatest dancers I have seen in my few years of attending the festival.  She had a number of solos throughout the show, and seemed almost to raise the bar in each one.  The stage was set up with a couple of tables where the singers and guitarist moved between, giving the stage to Farruquito and Amaya to display their virtuoso abilities.

At the end Farruquito gave a halting speech in English, before the vocal Spanish crowd soothed him into his native Spanish, which mean the only words I understood were ‘London’ and ‘heart’, but the crowd seemed to appreciate the sentiment, and me, I thoroughly enjoyed the show.

I got Karima and Encarnita’s names from this much better review by Donald Hutera here

The Flamenco Festival is on until the 27th, details here

Ballet Flamenco Eva Yerbabuena !Ay!

Eva Yerbabuena walked alone into the Darkness.  The spotlight highlighting her slow zig zag across the stage while a male singer stalked behind her in the shadows, smartly dressed all in black. Yerbabuena swayed and swung her arms and hands to the strains of a violin. It was the first time I’ve seen Flamenco with a violin.
By the end of the scene her hands had flicked and shaken, had seemingly pulled the notes raw from the violin, even the strings themselves, until it was the instrument that danced to the movement of her fingers.

This year is the 10th Anniversary of the London Flamenco Festival and we rolled up on a wet and windy March evening for the opening night.
As usual I had no clue what was going on, but I never let that detract from the show or the enjoyment.

Yerbabuena’s performance intrigued more than usual, her movements reminding me of a toy ballerina. In a Tim Burton movie. Expressive flicks of her wrists, arms and legs out straight and rigid, flopping onto the table or tilted chair while dressed from head to foot in black sent images of Beetlejuice or Coraline running past my eyes. Seeing her use her hands or arms mimicking the violin or guitar drew most of my attention. In a completely less skilled way when I’m out clubbing, I usually do the same thing to the beats, or keys, and to watch someone actually do it and make it seem as if it was her hands that were drawing the sound out of the instrument, rather than my mostly uncoordinated arm flinging, was fascinating to watch.
But Yerbabuena’s footwork, the footwork was incredible. A relentless trot across the stage, a powerful full pirouette that drew rapturous applause from an audience containing a sizeable Spanish contingent demonstrated that Yerbabuena is a master Flamenco dancer, and that she must have calves of steel.

Complimented by a guitarist, percussionist and three male singers, one of whom had a voice that bellowed Flamenco and sounded like it had been crafted from 50 cigarettes a day and good amount of whisky.

By the end of !Ay! the time seemed to fly as fast as Eva Yerbabuena’s feet, the festival has begun.

Full Program here

Paco Pena – Quimeras [Directed by Jude Kelly]

So only a month and a half after the event, but, you know, it was Christmas, and all that jazz.  But with the Flamenco festival fast approaching in Feb I thought I’d put this out.

On a limited run after it’s original showing in 2010, Quimeras tells the story of a group of migrants who leave Africa for Spain to search for work. The elegant, proud Flamenco is juxtaposed by the graceful and flamboyant African dancing, whose leaps around the stage were almost gazelle like.  The trio of African drums were a perfect compliment to the traditional Flamenco guitars, and, although I had absolutely no idea what was going on it was a brilliant show, full of powerful dancing as well as beautiful moments.  The music was just as good as the dancing on both sides, the almost formal guitar and the energetic drumming working well together in such a simple harmony that both retains the traditions of both yet sounds incredibly refreshting. When it finished I all but rampaged my way down to the stalls to get a copy of the soundtrack.  There isn’t one! Paco, you let me down.

Still I’ll forgive as it was an amazing show, and if it comes your way again I highly recommend it.
Roll on Feb for the full flamenco festival at Sadlers Wells, details here


As soon as I saw it was back for a seven week run I booked to go to see Spamalot, the musical ‘lovingly ripped’ from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

My best available seats from came in at row C in the stalls, very tidy.  I’ve not been to many theatres in London in truth, but the Harold Pinter Theatre seemed very small and intimate, like sitting in someone’s living room.  I had a look round while the jaunty Gordon’s gin advert played against the safety curtain until the show began.

All the best bits from the film are here, the swallow experts, Dennis the mud gatherer, the taunting French in the castle, the Black Knight (who had King Arthur, Marcus Brigstocke, laughing with some brilliant leg work after his arms had been cut off), Sir Robin’s minstrels and so on.  The Lady in the lake (Bonnie Langford) has a fantastically funny role, and also has some some of the best songs, including the wonderful ‘The Song That Goes Like This’ and the hilarious Diva’s Lament  (‘What Ever Happened to My Part’).
There are many other songs, including Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, sung by the put upon Pattsy (Todd Carty), He is Not Yet Dead and Find Your Grail, including a fantastic slow motion scene with everyone riding facing the front and Pattsy clopping his coconuts in slow motion alongside.

Inter sped between the classic film scenes there are some contemporary jokes, and on Saturday night (28th July) they included Boris Johnson riding across stage on a Boris bike and swipes at Mitt Romney, for his well thought out London Olympic quotes, and Paul McCartney from his seemingly embarrassing appearance in the Olympic opening ceremony the night before.

Even with all this the show compacts into just under two hours, but it was belly achingly funny from beginning to end and I’m quite tempted to join the knights of Camelot again..

“We’re knights of the round table…
We dance when we’re able..”