Maria Pages and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
by Charlotte Kasner
May 5, 2011 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK
Dunas, a collaboration between Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Maria Pages is a fusion between contemporary and flamenco nuevo. All too often this sort of attempt at melding two disparate styles presents a dog's breakfast, but in this instance two undisputedly talented artists pull off an hour and a quarter that manages to be entertaining throughout, if not very profound.
The set comprises stretchy, yellow fabric that drapes and encompasses the dancers and is spot-lit to suggest Africa and Arabia. It is as if a Louie Fuller skirt danced exploded to cover the entire stage. As the dancers emerge from the drapery like butterflies from a chrysalis, their artistic empathy is clear, creating, if not duende, a feeling of intimacy that theatrical flamenco often lacks in the bigger spaces and separation of a proscenium arch stage. Lighting is confined to contrasts of bright light and shade; they are not the first artists to use shadows for theatrical effect, a particularly common effect in theatrical flamenco where is attempts to suggest the impact of the strong light of the southern Mediterranean, but nothing lasts long enough to be trite. There is one particularly evocative moment when the light and layered fabric suggest the diffuse light of a sandstorm or a mirage.
It is not immediately obvious how Cherkaoui's rubber, floor-loving body and Pages' much more upright flamenco can be conjoined, but a little narrative of contact and conflict provides a thread that ties the evening together as it flows from one section to another using the metaphor of the sand dune. At one point, a grovelling Cherkaoui writhes at Pages haughty feet like the shepherd who is infatuated with Aegina in Grigorovich's Spartacus! Indeed, moments of humour abound in what is mostly an elegiac evening.
The dance is aided by a melange of music from traditional cante through Arabic, a medieval pilgrims' song and rather bland piano music. This serves the dance adequately but was heavily amplified to the detriment of the quality and, as often seems to happen, was far too loud. The effect created is thus strange, isolating the instruments and making them sound as if they have been recorded, especially when contrasted with the zapateado which, thankfully, was not over-miked.
There was enough evidence of flamenco to appease traditionalists, including an enjoyable bulerias and a nod to Spanish classical dance with some more than passable castanet work: Pages' castanets, like her zapateado are light and accurate.
Just when the metaphor of the sand dune looked as if it would be strained to bursting, the performance even managed to rustle up some actual yellow grains in a projected sand painting that never lost its sense of the witty whilst managing to be dramatic.
On the whole, the piece works well, although perhaps is not one to set the world on fire.
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