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.

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

Travesia [Gerardo Nunez]

Flamenco fever continued on Monday with Gerardo Nunez.  Learning from Thursdays trials we stuck to one beer before the performance.  We were seated further back up in the gods for this performance but more central.  We picked this show for a more guitar led showcase of Flamenco and indeed Gerardo Nunez was accompanied by his percussionist (I don’t know what else to call him, he sat on a box and tapped it, but it sounded like a rattlesnake languidly swinging it’s tail to the beat), another guitarist, two singers and Carmen Cortes, a gypsy flamenco dancer.  She sat on the end and clapped before seemingly being taken over by the music and slipping to the floor where she performed the most sensual, beautiful flamenco I have seen at the festival.  I could not take my eyes of her, at once serious but playful.  The show showcased Gerardo’s virtuoso guitar playing along with traditional singing and Carmen’s dancing.  At one point the two singers and percussionist sat at a tall table and tapped while singing.  they sang acapella, the box was banged on it’s own, the guitars played solo and time flew by in a whirl of claps, stomps and swishing skirts.
At the end Carmen peformed a solo dance and they all stood around, the percussionist sang, the singers stamped their feet, Gerardo lent out his guitar to kick out his feet before they all accompanied the swinging Carmen off the stage.
I loved it all, the guitar sang with raw emotion and Carmen Cortes was one of the best Flamenco dancers I have seen, injecting a playfulness that I had not really come across before and the fun end of the show for me kept the raw emotion of Flamenco, and put a smile on it’s face, Bring on next year 🙂

Suspiro Flamenco [Manuela Carrasco Company]

I don’t know how, or why, but as soon as I hear the exotic strum of the guitars, the rhythmic clapping and stamping on the floor of blurred feet, I am  to Sacromonte hill in Granada, the main reason I don’t know how, is that I’ve never actually been there.  I’ve seen it, looking out from the Alhambra, but a big red line drawn on my map by the lady in the tourist office, “Do not go here, gypsies…very dangerous” was enough to put me off.
“oh really?”, said my friend on Thursday night “It’s a tourist area now”.  Maybe I should go back.  Or maybe I shouldn’t, as it may not match what I conjure in my mind every when the Flamenco Festival at Sadlers Wells swirls round every year.
I always try to go for the more traditional shows, the women with the long dresses, the guitars, that somehow conjured up moorish images in my mind, and the singing, which always makes me laugh, cringe and then mesmerises me within the first few seconds.

Manuela Carrasco and her company were the choice for the first show, not the first choice to be honest, I had a Black Keys gig on the Friday night so this was the next best.  Sat way up in the Gods (thats the 2nd circle), on one side was a woman who spread her coat all over the chair in front and took up half my leg space, and on the other side was two women who barely stopped talking.  Manuela was on stage at the start, surrounded by two guitarists and a percussionist/drummer on one side, and 3 singers on the other.  The first song was as beautiful as I expected, the dancing as spellbinding as I hoped, her dress falling and swishing, her feet blurring while behind hands were clapped as the singers verbally jostled each other to the strummed guitars.  Manuela was replaced by three guys stamping, kicking and prancing through before instrumentals and individual dancing took us to the climax.  The main singer stood out on his own, and literally pulled his heart through is mouth as Manuela at once rebuffed and returned to him in a blur of stamps and turns.  At least thats what it sounds like, my Spanish is so poor he could have been screaming out his shopping list so he didn’t forget, but it would have been the most emotional shopping list recital. Ever.  But it was beautiful, everyone came out and suddenly an hour and a half had gone, thankfully, as I had learnt that two beers before going into a show with no break is going to test your bladder.  Still I cheered and clapped for the endless rounds of bowing and appreciation, rightly deserved, for another spellbinding show.

Next up is Gerardo Núñez with guest Carmen Cortés on Monday, just the one beer before that one.

Sadlers Wells Flamenco festival site is here