Archive for February, 2010

BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour


I  had an unexpected interlude to my normal working day this morning in the form of an invitation to join Jenni Murray, the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s programme ‘Woman’s Hour,’ and none other than María Pagés in a discussion on the cultural history of flamenco. We had to arrive early and so it was a welcome chance to spend an hour in María’s company prior to going on air. It always amazes me that even the most talented people are sometimes not so different from ordinary folk. If I had gone to meet María in the hope of imbibing arte, then, in fact, we ended up chatting, as we waited, about clothes, shopping and travel. I learnt, for instance, that neither Jigsaw nor Gap have entered the Spanish market. María is from Sevilla. Something about her unmistakeable Andalusian Spanish was immensely reassuring, bringing with it, as it did, shades of her sun-lit city to the heart of the BBC. Having seen María’s majestic performance on stage, I had imagined her to be somehow imposing off stage too. Instead, she is tall and slender, elegant but relaxed, at first glance not so unlike many other well-dressed women. Only the lightest flutter of her fingers as she spoke or the easy grace of her long limbs gave away a trace or two of the dance she carries within. For María, London is only one stop on a world tour that takes her across continents. So her performance seems even more impressive when one takes jet lag into account.

As for the 1o-minute slot on air that we shared, you can find it some 34 minutes into the programme by clicking here.

February 24, 2010 Posted Under: General   Read More

The Inimitable María Pagés

If ever you feel inclined to see an example of flamenco that the vast majority of us could never even hope to emulate in our dreams, then do go and see María Pagés who is currently performing at Sadlers Wells. Her show ‘Autorretrato’ or ‘Self-Portrait’ is perfectly choreographed to showcase her exceptional talent as a dancer. ‘Autorretrato,’ as the name suggests, is an attempt to delineate the self through dance. Pagés brings to her performance a deliberate reflexivity, even as she playfully engages with the many selves that she constructs and frames, only to release again into movement. Flamenco becomes a sophisticated means of self-exploration here. Mirrors and frames figure large on stage, always foregrounding the question of identity; so does the dancer’s ability to maintain the traditional parameters of flamenco whilst also constantly reaching beyond them with the skill of a virtuoso towards an almost existentialist quest for the meaning of things. She uses dance as a language with which to dialogue with painters, poets and lyricists, so that her own artistic subjectivity is forged through this deliberate inclusion of others and other media. Of course, by doing so, Pagés recalls the poet Lorca’s efforts to combine poetry, painting and flamenco in his pursuit of art. Pagés brings tremendous power to the dance, together with a strong visual awareness, using rich fabrics and colours. Underlying this entire, highly skilled choreography is a politics of openness, one that she shares with the poets and painters whose work she calls upon. In one piece, she and her accompanying dancers come on stage in kimonos… Pagés thereby makes a rare gesture of acknowledgement to the enormous contribution made to the development of flamenco by the Japanese. Most breathtaking of all is the final piece, an alegriás/cantiñas that leaves her audience reeling from the dizzying moves of her mantón. Here it is:

February 24, 2010 Posted Under: General   Read More

¡Viva la flamenca!

Festival of flamencasThe Flamenco Festival at Sadlers Wells is dominated this year by women dancers and women choreographers. This predominance of the feminine is in keeping with the notable changes in the role of women in Spanish society. In the past thirty years, since the Transition to democracy, Spanish women have taken great strides towards not merely emancipation, but towards key positions at the vanguard of political, cultural and artistic change.

Gone, it would seem, are the old days when flamenco ‘purists,’ almost always men, gathered in smoke-filled bars, peñas and other venues, to decide the fate of the art — or, as was more often the case, to preserve tradition. These women who feature in this year’s festival are bold and innovative, stylish in the extreme, daring in their overtures to other non-Spanish dance forms, but always mindful of the basic parameters of flamenco. They are also clued when it comes to the concerns of women around the world: questions of gender roles, female psychology, creativity, engendering, love, passion and life loom large in their dynamic choreographies. The men who accompany them do not lack force; yet, they play, in a sense, second fiddle to the feminine score. It seems only fair. For too long, women as dancers were objects of the gaze, subject to the whims of male choreographers who worked from the heterosexual and patriarchal moulds of Francoist Spain. Now things are different. Flamenco is finally creating a space for women to explore their identities in and to come into being through music and dance.

February 21, 2010 Posted Under: General   Read More

London’s Flamenco Festival

Rafaela Carrasco in 'Vamos al tiroteo.' We’ve now reached the end of week 1 of Sadlers Wells’ flamenco festival — the annual showcasing of flamenco highlights from ‘real’ professionals in Spain, as opposed to the local versions of flamenco that we London flamencoholics invent on a regular basis. This festival of flamenco has become one of the highlights of the capital’s dance calendar as the blues of winter are annually kept in check by the fire of Spanish dance.

This evening, I have just returned from seeing Rafaela Carrasco’s show ‘Vamos al tiroteo.’ It is without doubt one of the most stylish flamenco shows I have seen in my life,  set dramatically in black, red and white. The simplicity of costumes is set off by an ornate mosaic floor, also in black and white, that appears from a distance like Spanish tiling. The music was deep and rich, especially Gema Caballero’s modulated and perfectly controlled voice  that filled the theatre. Carrasco is unusual amongst flamencos in her very deliberate crossing of boundaries. If the show takes its cue from Lorca’s lyrics and from the songs of La Argentinita (who performed in some of Lorca’s plays), then it also draws innovation and inventiveness from other dance styles, most notably tap and contemporary. Temporal boundaries between past and present melt as the music shifts from the sombre depths of the cello to the rainbow-like notes of the piano, unusual instruments in flamenco, that nevertheless worked perfectly with the guitar. So too do gender boundaries become blurred. In one of the show’s more dramatic pieces, four men dance the sevillanas in silvery skirts with bata de cola… The feminine dress does nothing to diminish the virility of the men: if at all, it enhances it and their dancing is strong, forceful and alive. Throughout, men wear red shoes and at one point dance with a red hat that is passed between them as if it were a lover they shared. Border crossing of this sort translates here into a seamless performance, fluid in the extreme, malleable and changing, but held together by a magical combination of soul and style, like Carrasco’s own supple body.

February 21, 2010 Posted Under: Flamenco Performance   Read More