Hamer Hall, Melbourne.
October 21, 2016.
The standing ovation surely tells you something; but the question is: what?
The technique, energy and commitment of Flamenco queen Sara Baras and her company, Ballet Flamenco, cannot be faulted. The virtuosity on show throughout, from both dancers and musicians, is exemplary. Throw in a smattering of great production tricks (including some excellent percussive lighting design), and you have a hundred-plus minutes of floor-pounding, hand-clapping vivacity.
There was something distant and opaque about Voces, however. For all of Baras’ controlled power and feline grace, the net result is little more than an onslaught of front on spectacle. So utterly performative is Voces, so precisely executed, that its architectural prettiness leaves you feeling cold. The legendary village square rawness and Latin passion, the sinewy sexuality and poetic danger, are somehow missing.
That said, Baras and company are clearly not trying to recreate the dusty Andalusian heat of peasant flamenco but to sculpt it into something more theatrical. In this, they succeed. Voces embraces quietness and simplicity as much as it goes for full-on thunder. There are moments of taut balletic discipline and cool minimalist rigour amidst the rhythmic guitar and soaring, Moorish voices.
In addition, both Baras and guest soloist Jose Serrano deliver incredibly energetic performances, highlighted by their scintillating footwork. Indeed, the staccato tapping of heels is one of the dominant features of Voces.
Wrapping it all together are the contemporary compositions of Baras’ musical collaborator Keko Baldomero. With twin guitars, box drumming and wailing vocals, he creates a palette at once traditional and crisply modern. This, in turn, is mirrored by Baras and her dancers.
Voces sits somewhere between the streets of Granada (flamenco’s spiritual mecca) and the gilt theatres of dead kings. It weaves low and high culture together and even adds in a dash of Spanish kitsch and thinly disguised nostalgic nationalism. Unfortunately, the result is ascetic. Almost mechanistic. The show has a hard reflective sheen that, in the end, excludes us. This is just something we watch.
But then there was the standing ovation. Make of that what you will.
By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Ballet Flamenco in ‘Voces’. Photo by Santana de Yepes.