Fuenteovejuna

Antonio Gardes after Lope de Vega
Antonio Gardes Company
Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Fuenteovejuna

The late Antonio Gardes, who created this work in 1994, knew how to handle a dance narrative. Here he takes the core of de Vega's play and fashions a choreographic drama.

It is the story of the village of Fuenteovejuna and how it turns en mass on its despotic overlord after he abducts a bridal couple on their wedding day and uses the girl for his own pleasure. When the law attempts to arraign someone for the killing of the Commendador, every single villager claims to be the murderer and the judge finds no one guilty.

Although this performance is part of Sadlers Wells's current Flamenco Festival, this is not an exclusively flamenco piece. The score incorporates a baroque style and even an extract from Mussorgsky. There is lovely lyrical choreography for the young lovers and some attractive village dances to celebrate the wedding, including a bravura set of solos in which the young men of the village present flowers to the bride.

There is a threatening advance as the Commendador and his bully boys ride into the village, but it is the flamenco based choreography that provides the most dramatic material. Zapateado is used excitingly as a form of dialogue, especially in a confrontation between the village mayor (the father of the bride) and the Commendador, and later as the villagers discuss what they are to do in response to their lord's latest outrage. Gardes knew how to create drama from moments of stillness and silence, gradually adding hand claps and foot stamps to built tension then adding a single singer's voice before expanding the action.

This is a strong dramatic work that is certainly not just for the flamenco fanatic, though there is plenty here, not least some excellent singing, which will please the specialist. Cristina Carnero and Angel Gil make a charming pair as the bridal couple and José Carmona gives the black-coated mayor a formal dignity. In scarlet coat in contrast to the brown, ochre and grey-green garments of the villagers, the Commendador and his sinister henchmen stand out as evil figures but Miguel Angel Rojas makes him threatening without overdoing the histrionics.

The story makes these players the leading characters but, like the play's theme of communal action this is an ensemble work and the demands it makes on the whole company are well matched by every member.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton