May 20, 2024

Flamenco puts the bombdiggy into ballet in Madrid

In a grand stage set in an enormous courtyard originally designed for military drills, several figures scraped their feet across the stage, under cover of darkness.

The scraping had a rhythm, the clapping and castanets had a rhythm, the tapping had a rhythm, even the tables and chairs were shuffled a few inches, to temporarily take on the rhythm baton.

In moments the dancing was furious, legs constantly stomping, ankles flying around, hips extending and contorting. All the time the torso kept as straight as a bar of iron, the features always austere. Even when receiving applause the performers frowned as if their meditation on passion and envy was sacred.

A kaleidoscope of music, movement and joy was released, and took the collective breath away, halfway through Blood Weddings, a story about eloping, betrayal and revenge, when the entire cast, including dancers, singers and classical guitarists, moved as one, to celebrate the night before the wedding.

Then the shuffling, as mentioned, then two men were left centre stage, in the moonlight, and in the slowest of motions, they fought a duel with knives. What an incredible performance, I was reminded of some of the fighting scenes in Matrix. What strength and control of the limbs, what poise and elegance.

The second half was a set of Flamenco dances and performances. The focus could switch from dancing to singing, to the classical guitars and any combination of. All utterly mesmerising.

Ballet has its fans, but I find the conventional stuff a bit airy fairy boring after a while. But this, this flamenco ballet is more like it, more bombastic, sexier, passionate and crude. I won’t forget how the lead female performer, a squat matriarch, older than the rest, continually shook the parting in the various dresses she wore, just above her groin, whilst sending waves down the outside of her thighs.

We never really knew when the show was going to end. The troupe would perform what seemed like one last scintillating sketch, for the lights to go out, for the audience to get on their feet and clap and cheer, for the lights to come back on, for the cast to do another sketch, usually involving some new clapping arrangement, and so on. As if the troupe were determined to exhaust the audience, as if ending a show when the audience still had energy, was shameful.

Compañía Antonio Gades performed Bodas de Sangre and Flamenco Suites at Centro Cultural Conde Duque, 19th July 2023.

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