A Poet in New York
Rafel Amargo Company
Sadler's Wells Theatre, London; February 17, 2012
This, the penultimate offering in this year's flamenco festival was unashamedly, in yer face, breaking the fourth-wall, and centring round the dancing (and ego) of Rafael Amargo. Dancers milked the audience for applause (successfully), not least Amargo, leaving little room for introspection - or duende.
The narrative was based on Lorca's visit to New York in the fateful year of 1929, so backdrops of skyscrapers and images of his poetry being read abounded. Not having an intimate knowledge of Lorca or fluent Spanish was definitely a hindrance and, at 1 hour 45 minutes with no interval, the work was overly long. Flamenco's technical limitations in demonstrating narrative perhaps come into play too.
The flamenco was mainly fast and furious, with plenty of chico moments to lighten the atmosphere. The concentration was on the zapateado at the expense of braceo with supportive, rather than, demonstrative palmas. There was an odd section with a dancer writhing in a tutu in shadow inside a cage of rubber strips and overtones of contemporary dance in places, but none of this detracted from the good, largely traditional, flamenco in between. It is an interesting period to illustrate, but of course impossible to ignore the benefits of hindsight given what happened in America and to Lorca.
One of the later sections comprised tientos with an excellent backdrop of writhing cigarette smoke (nota bene future designers of Carmen!). The multi-media effects integrated well with the work overall, although, as of earlier in the week, sound was over-amplified and singers were not always projected evenly. Two guitarists and one percussionist sounded like a full orchestra, so robust was the playing throughout. However, the musical star of the evening was undoubtedly Juan Fernandez, the flautist. Terrific jazz flute, in fact no exaggeration to say virtuoso, with a breathy, gutsy tone and fleet fingering. It was a good move to provide him with a centre stage opportunity and also apposite for setting the atmosphere for New York, whether this type of music was being played n 1929 or not.
This year's festival has had the highest standard of dancing ever, with a mix of the best that is available and that deserves fully the excellent houses and responses. How lucky we are to have such a choice of world-class flamenco in our midst once a year - long may it reign!