Devised by Paco Peña
Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company
Sadler's Wells

Charo Espino, Carmen ‘La Talegoña’ Rivas and Ángel Múñoz in Flamencura Credit: Rob Studdert
Carmen ‘La Talegoña’ Rivas and Ángel Múñoz in Flamencura Credit: Jeremy Toth
Carmen ‘La Talegoña’ Rivas and Paco Peña in Flamencura Credit: Rita Slattery
Charo Espino, Carmen ‘La Talegoña’ Rivas and Ángel Múñoz in Flamencura Credit: Rita Slattery
Ángel Múñoz in Flamencura Credit: Rob Studdert
Paco Peña Credit: Rob Studdert

The higher the ratio of Spaniards in the audience, the more electric the atmosphere in any flamenco event: the call and response required in that village square community, the involvement between audience and performers, the demonstrativeness and the artistry.

Flamenco comes from the soul, the blood, the history, the fire and heart of a nation, and Paco Peña, who has been promoting it on the global stage for more than half a century, knows it in his very DNA.

His Flamencura concert, the essence of flamenco—music, singing and dancing a symbiotic mix: guitars, percussion, deep singing and passionate movement—has ten revealing numbers ranging from earthy to evocative, from the sensual to the dramatic, the joyful to the tragic, from the traditional and contemporary, in solos, duets, trios, and ensemble.

A cast of six musicians and three dancers, but it is Peña’s sublime guitar playing that holds them together. Taking up the guitar at the age of six, making his first professional appearance at the age of twelve he has been holding audiences' attentions for nigh on sixty years.

He makes us connect with the emotion held in guitar strings that speak so eloquently: I remember a little girl listening to exiled mother and grandmother playing guitar and mandolin, not understanding the words, but completely getting the sentiment and mood. It is the same here. You do not need to be or know Spanish, though of course it helps.

His trio of dancers reveals and expounds this healing therapy of the soul with great versatility, with balletic gesture and grace, as one expects from Charo Espino, Carmen ‘La Talegoña’ Rivas and Ángel Múñoz, whom I last saw in Edinburgh in Patrias.

On a bare stage, a few chairs against Tom Wickens’s lighting that changes from the blaze of day to midnight blue and blackest night, hearts are laid bare. Daytime passion and nocturnal introspection, angry and plaintive, desires reverberate through interpretative movement and song.

Impossibly complex and very simple, love, life and death—Lorcan in the Petenera, in which a woman (Carmen ‘La Talegoña’) in black shroud eases the man (Múñoz) into the other world through the pull of memory. A woman in a giant shawl takes flight like a beautiful bird, the shawl her wings, her partner and prop.

Charo Espino, Múñoz’s real-life partner, is a seductive supple-backed Eve in Tangos de Málaga, her arms like two serpents inviting men into paradise, her hips muy guapa—as I hear from the side. The man sings of love—who wouldn’t…

Múñoz’s Soleá is a masterclass in playing to and with the audience. Starting quietly, he lets it grow in expression as if he’s let the genie out of the lamp, collects himself for a moment, then is off again on another epic bout, his body a machine and an echo chamber. He gets his response. I’m sure I hear a child shout ‘come back’ followed by laughter.

Duende, like the Portuguese fado, evokes the spirit that inspires. And it comes as no surprise that Peña sees it and the outsider flamenco gypsy in the blues and gospels: voices that weep emotion, syncopated beats, harmonizing and competing sounds, heels and palms.

He has invited the astonishingly voiced (incredible range) British jazz-funk singer Vimala Rowe to meld with his singers Jose Angel Carmona and Immaculada Rivero. And it is the singing that seems to drive the dancers and musicians (Paco Arriaga, Rafael Montilla and Nacho López) on.

An adventure for him, he says, and a new perspective for his audience, placing Rowe’s ensemble Martinete number ‘at the genesis of flamenco musical culture that reflects the harsh conditions in which it was born’.

The night brings joy, fireworks, self-mockery and mellowness, too. The final ensemble number, Fandangos, speaks for itself, allowing everyone in the group a special moment. But it doesn’t end there. As in a village square, the singers and musicians get a turn at dancing. The mix is free and easy, familial.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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