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Jaleo Flamenco - 'The Art of Seduction'

The Rhythms of Desire

by Elizabeth Schwyzer

September 16, 2004 -- Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

On a dark stage, four men begin to stamp their feet, slowly at first. As they pick up speed, they build a more complex rhythm, clapping their hands in syncopation with their footfalls as the lights slowly rise. And then a woman’s voice slashes across the men’s rhythmic percussion, silencing them with haunting wails and throaty groans reverberating across the stage. This is the Saeta -- a devotional song in the Sevillian flamenco tradition. Whether or not you understand the Spanish words, the strains of these Arabic chords tug at your chest.

This is the joy of Jaleo Flamenco -- a company of musicians, vocalists and dancers who play off one another in a whirl of rhythms, chords and movement, where it’s never clear who’s in charge. Sometimes it’s the guitarists who begin, introducing the beat with their fine, crisp finger-picking and delicate strumming, and the dancer who interprets their clean-edged sound with concise, incisive twists of her shoulders and hips. The next moment, she’ll have switched to sinuous, subtle undulations, and the guitar players will follow -- cradling and stroking their instruments as if caressing the skin of a soft, rounded woman -- releasing sounds that are fittingly soft and warm.

In this sense, what we’re witnessing is a sophisticated flirtation -- the seductive interplay of movement and music that is flamenco.

Dancer Ana Maria Blanco is a bright bird among the sober-hued suits of the men, and, like a peacock on parade, she struts about the stage, modelling a dazzling series of flamenco dresses as she goes. With a twitch of her ample hips and a twist of her waist, she commands attention, both from her audience and her company.

Her male counterpart, curly-headed Carlos Cabello, may be baby-faced, but he’s pulsing with masculinity. In a blood red shirt, he smoulders with unreleased physical energy, then bursts into fiery tremors, thrusts, and snap-turns as perspiration flies from his head in a fine mist. Driving (or driven by?) the hammering music, Cabello dances faster and faster, building to a wild climax, then winds down slowly, removing each element of sound and movement until the theatre is reduced to stillness and silence. Then he builds it all back up again. His dance is a physical embodiment of desire.

Every one of the six members of Jaleo Flamenco seems completely at ease on the stage. They carry with them a sense that they don’t need to prove anything; the audience is invited to enjoy the music and the dance as if this were a boisterous wedding party rather than a south bank theatre. So the performers speak to one another, wink and smile, shout encouragement, admire one another. They pride themselves on their authenticity, and they are authentic, but not just in the sense of [being] culturally traditional. It’s the fact that they’re making their art with such sincerity and joy, and so little self-consciousness or ingratiation, that gives them gravitas and gives them believability. This is what art is really about -- it’s what we need and what we crave -- and it’s why the audience can’t get enough of it.

This show is certainly a seduction, but it’s also a challenge: it calls on anyone watching to respond to the same internal urges that drive the music and the dance of flamenco -- which is why quite a few people leave the theatre dancing, arms raised and hips swaying.

Edited by Jeff.

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