Manuela Carrasco at Sadler’s Wells — Diva or Duende?

Very occasionally, I have witnessed some rather strange flamenco shows, where duende reveals its dark side. Last night’s performance by Manuela Carrasco was one of them. The performance was not helped either by the freezing weather outside or the sudden power cut that afflicted Sadler’s Wells just before the show was due to start. Plunged into bewildering darkness whilst in the ladies’, I struggled to find my way out of there, only to find that no drinks could be bought because the tills too were down. Nor did it help that, when the lights finally came back on, the performance took yet more time to start. However, none of this mattered much at the time to me, as I have long wanted to see Manuela Carrasco, if only as a gitana pura whom I recall from the 1970sI was more than willing to wait for as long as it took. Carrasco cuts an imposing figure even on film, so when she finally strode on stage, it all seemed — just briefly — worthwhile.

To watch that performance was to take a trip down memory lane, to a time before flamenco dancers honed their performances in studios and before they borrowed from ballet or contemporary or jazz, to a time when a few chosen artists were deemed gifted with authenticity and born to the art. Manuela is one such figure. However, can one ever just stand still on stage or merely raise their statuesque arms in order to be called dancers? Carrasco certainly belongs to a time when elders were respected and when people still believed in notions such as purity and authenticity… and there is, to my mind, an element of arrogance in that. For try hard she did NOT. Despite some amazing performances by her gifted supporting dancers, she herself veered between prolonged statuesque poses, arm high up in the air and enraged footwork that nevertheless felt a touch jaded. That did not stop yells of encouragement from some in the audience, for we all know that the flame of duende must be fanned if it is to burn brightly. Brightly it did not burn last night. The performance never quite got off the ground. On the contrary.  I sat waiting for the moment when Manuela would burst into inspiration, but that, sadly, did not come. Instead, in an apparent turn that came all of a sudden, she thrust her fingers at the audience in the guise of a bullfighter’s estocada and then proceeded to collapse on the shoulder of her principal singer, a man whose baritone voice recalled the popular stars of the 1970s in Spain. He dutifully escorted the star off stage and so the show ended, some thirty minutes earlier than announced.

I am seldom negatively critical of flamenco. In fact, it occurs to me that I veer usually towards unflagging admiration, but this was one performance that left me feeling let down. Perhaps it had also been due to the anticipation. After all, Manuela Carrasco was, to my mind, of the ilk of El Farruco, a gypsy from Seville’s Triana with flamenco ‘in the blood.’ There was no magic last night, indeed, just the feeling of being short-changed. Perhaps, then, it is best that flamenco not be ‘in the blood’ but rather, that it be truly sought, struggled for, desired and dreamt.

February 10, 2012 Post Under General - Read More

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