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.

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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