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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
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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