On Friday 17th February, Ballet Nacional de España opened their programme at Sadler’s Wells as part of the Flamenco Festival.
The history of the company is troublesome. In 1979 the Spanish Government decided to create this company at the same time as the classical company, that has now become the Compañía Nacional de Danza directed by Nacho Duato. Since then, both companies have desperately tried to acquire some kind of identity that, in the case of the Ballet Nacional, has caused constant changes of directorship.
The present director, José Antonio, had directed the group before and has been obviously brought back in order to revitalise the company, which to this day, remains a bit of a puzzle in terms of what it really represents. For a company that is supposed to represent Spanish folk dance, the emphasis is overwhelmingly anchored in the Andalucian tradition and there seems to be little room for other dance forms that, as a national company, it should represent.
However, that is the reason why it was brought to Sadler’s Wells as part of the Flamenco Festival, and therefore the programme they chose for the occasion established this trend in an obvious way.
The first piece was “Grito”, choreographed by Antonio Canales. The work was a collection of different flamenco rhythms and dances, Alegrías and Soleás. The dancers were simply beautiful to see. The lines, the synchronisation of their dance, their zapateado was so clear and beautiful, that, at times it seemed to lack the crudeness and directness that real flamenco is supposed to have.
The second piece was “Golpes da la Vida” (Life strikes hard). It was a narrative piece on the conflict between an old teacher and a young student. Choreographed by José Antonio, who also took the role of the old teacher, the piece showcased the amazing talent of Pol Vaquero. I am not very sure about the possibilities of flamenco –or any other folk dance for that matter- and narrative. However, the powerful performances of both dancers, the stage presence of José Antonio and the virtuosity of Vaquero, made one forget the excesses of the narrative gestures and enjoy superb dancing.
The last piece “La Leyenda” was a homage to Carmen Amaya, a legend in the flamenco world. The piece had two main bailaoras taking the role of Amaya, both as Woman and as The Immortal. The choreography was, once again by José Antonio, who by not sticking to any narrative in his piece, managed very successfully to convey the magic of a performer who transcended her art form and life. Úrsula López was the woman and Elena Algado was the immortal. Both dancers displayed virtuosity and passion. The piece presented the whole company at its best and most varied and there were moments when one could witness rare beauty on the stage. No wonder flamenco is so popular, no wonder the company uses it as a calling card wherever they go. The variety, the sheer beauty of its elements and dances make audiences enjoy a display of colour, rhythm and passion that never seems to cease.
Ballet Nacional de España may have difficulties still in trying to define itself within the country it represents. As it appears now, the company is a wonderful example of the beautiful dancers that Spain can produce and of the richness and exuberance of flamenco and Andalucian dance. At its weakest, it is a very partial example of what Spanish dance really is.