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Flamenco Festival - Gala de Sevilla

Juan de Juan, Rocío Molina, Compañia Manuela Carrasco

Two Views

5th Feb 2004 - Sadler's Wells, London

Image of Manuela Carrasco

A fertile and flourishing art form

by Lyndsey Winship

Flamenco's popularity seems to be ever increasing, and the gala opening of the Flamenco Festival at Sadler's Wells showed why this is as fertile and flourishing an art form as ever.

Two performers really stood out – one a matron of the old school, flamenco puro, the other a young woman who brings new vitality and a fresh slant to this proudly traditional dance.

Rocio Molina is barely 20 years old, yet carries herself with the grace, poise and presence of a seasoned performer. A prize-winning dancer, she was until recently working with Compania Maria Pages (who are at Sadler's Wells this week), but she is clearly a solo star. Molina is effortlessly imposing, her strong arms and generous curves seem to suck in all the surrounding energy, and all eyes are drawn to her.

She finds new ways to express the pain, sorrow and longing that characterise flamenco. Her hands play out a delicate story, scrolling across her body in traditional style but they also slice the air in dead straight lines and curl into fists thrust into the sky. Molina is bursting with passion; her body and face contort, overwhelmed by it all, and her heels dig into the floor, making their mark just like this young dancer.

In the second half of the gala, flamenco returns to its roots and Manuela Carrasco, the so-called 'Empress of Flamenco', demonstrates exactly why she is worthy of the title. This haughty, domineering doña is a force to be reckoned with. Surrounded by seated musicians and dancers, she recreates scenes from the bars of Triana, Seville, where she grew up. Carrasco instills all of life into her art. Body, soul, music, dance, pain, joy, love and loss are all fused together in one masterful figure.

The evening's third guest performer, Juan de Juan, has all the blistering technique and firecracker footwork you'd expect of a Bright Young Thing. He struts and stamps and begs us all to love him, but in the end it's all show off and no soul. Still, there's no doubt that these dancers really know how to throw a good fiesta.


Flamenco, fino and slivers of Spanish ham

by Stuart Sweeney

The Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival kicked off last night with “Gala de Sevilla”. With a succession of flamenco artists and fino and slivers of Spanish ham in the interval, it could hardly miss.

However, the festivities got off to a shaky start. In the absence of another performer, Juan de Juan gave two solos, which showed off his pyrotechnic footwork. The problem lay with his dull upper body and arms and his lack of grace as he strove to increase the speed of his steps. By the end of the second solo I had switched off completely and was left pondering the eternal dance virtues of centred movement and restraint.

To restore our faith in flamenco the first half closed with Rocío Molina. This 20-year old performer started dancing at the age of 3; gave her first show at 13 and choreographed a work in collaboration with a poet a year later. She is a stunning and distinctive dancer, introducing movement with swinging arms and bent legs to the classical repertoire of steps. Her self-confidence was such that she danced with primarily upper body movement for several minutes to set a context for her later bursts of footwork. Her turns are smooth, as if on ball bearings, and there was that centred focus of energy that we had missed earlier. Molina is one of the most interesting young dance artists I have seen for quite a while.

The second half exploded into life with Compañia Manuela Carrasco. The fiesta atmosphere showed us seniors dancing without inhibitions, singers twirling and a large woman with a voice like sandpaper extracting emotion from an angry song. These festivities were underpinned by the marvellous dancing of Manuela Carrasco herself. Tall, full-bodied and proud, she commanded the stage in her solos. This was classic flamenco, again with a controlled fury rather than a scatter-gun approach. From the slow upward stretches of her arms to her rapid footwork she held the audience in rapt attention.

Edited by Stuart Sweeney

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