Gala Flamenca

Choreography Manuel Liñán (also director), Alfonso Losa, El Yiyo, special collaborator Carrete de Málaga
Sadler's Wells

Carrete de Málaga Credit: Paco Lobato
Alfonso Losa Credit: Beatrix Mexi Molnar
Manuel Liñán Credit: Marcos G Punto
El Yiyo Credit: Paco Lobato

Gala Flamenca, which closes the festival, is a showcase for a series of cabaret style long sets from quite an astonishing range of dancers, singers, and musicians. But, it’s not until the legendary 83-year-old Carrete de Málaga (real name José Losada Santiago), known as the gypsy Fred Astaire of Malaga, comes on at the end—the best saved for last—that I understand the true meaning of flamenco. He carries it in every cell of his body—he calls himself ‘an abstract flamenco dancer’.

He’s quite a showman in his elegant suit, cravat, cane, hat, nonchalant demeanour and proud deportment. Dancing since he was seven, professional since fifteen, he adored Astaire’s films as a child. I urge you to watch Ana Gonzalez's five-minute film about him.

He brings the house down on ninety minutes of exceptional performances. He dances standing, he dances sitting, and he doesn't want to leave the stage. They should have brought him on sooner—for his charm and rapport with his audience. But then, he’d have stolen the show. Personality will out…

Guest singer Sandra Carrasco, who has worked with Anoushka Shankar and Carlos Saura, sets the emotional anguished declamatory tone. A goddess in her silver dress, a solitary woman amongst seven men, she commands the stage with her voice, and with her body language she could be dancing.

Two singers, Antonio Campos and David Carpio, two fabulous guitarists, Francisco Vinuesa and Javier Ibañez, reach into my soul, with percussionist Kike Terrón keeping it all on track. Dancing, singing and musical numbers alternate and complement. They all have a chance to dazzle us with their talent. The stage is simply lit, props are a few chairs arranged and rearranged—who needs more when the drama is in the body…

The youngest of the dancers, in his twenties, Roma-born El Yiyo (real name Miguel Fernández Rivas), dances with passion and entitlement. He expects the applause that follows. Doing my background research, I find an interesting quote from him: when asked which palos (category of flamenco dance) he prefers, he says, “I wouldn’t know which one to choose. It depends a lot on the mood in which you are each moment. 'La Soleá' and 'La Bulería' are palos that I feel very identified with, but it is true that it has a lot to do with the state in which I am at every moment.”

This is what we have tonight—slightly subverted tradition enhanced by superlative dancers, reaching deep into their souls. Into their moods, and letting us share it with them. I also read, that “Manuel Liñán and Alfonso Losa are contemporary mavericks in the world of flamenco.” Whilst “Losa is revered as the most refined and traditional dancer of his generation,” Liñán challenges tradition with remarkable verve.

Liñán, winner of the 2017 National Dance Award, is known for his crossover to female style—in his black bata de cola and shawl he surprises, yet he makes complete sense. Just wow… Liñán and Losa, both in their forties, of similar build, may differ in style and approach, yet they duet beautifully.

They all make beautiful sense. London’s Spanish diaspora, out in force tonight, show their appreciation loud and clear throughout—it wouldn't be the same without them for us gringos. Beats, rhythms, an education in counterpoint and time signatures, the festival has been one long pleasurable experience. The guitars and those percussive feet, with their unfeasible feats of complex phrasing, do it for me every time.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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