Sara Baras—Sombras

Direction and choreography Sara Baras, musical direction and composition Keko Baldomero
Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras
Sadler’s Wells

The sixteenth edition of the Flamenco Festival, running 2–14 July, brings a range of goodies to Sadler’s Wells, both main house and studio. Not the same maybe as in a hot smoky nightclub atmosphere in its native land or in the shade of a village square with the crowd clapping and shouting encouragement, but, if the rest of the programme is anything like the dynamic opening show, Sombras (Shadows) flamenco aficionados are in for a treat.

Sara Baras with her company of six fine dancers (four female, two male), seven talented male musicians (two singers), celebrates the twentieth anniversary of her company with almost two hours of non-stop electrifying energy. Milking the audience’s applause with every number (there are thirteen listed but it’s a seamless whole), building up a rapport with her team and admirers, who do shout and stand in a wave of ovations, several curtain calls followed by encore after encore, the woman is an unstoppable runaway train, blowing kisses, revelling in the evening, on a high.

A legend, Baras is dynamite, she speaks with her feet, accelerating and decelerating, her thunderous heels like pistons hammering the floor in her trademark farruca, normally a dance for men, and one can see why—the power, the control, the strength, the stamina, she has it all. Gender is not an issue—unisex outfits throw that outmoded notion out the window—women in suits (and dresses), men whirling dervish monks in long skirts (and suits). But she does not traduce tradition: as well as farruca, there’s serrana, zapateado, bulería, alegría—and my goodness is she fast, heels machine-gunning the floor—as well as romance and waltz melodies for her and the company.

There is fine drama and a story of sorts in the arc of the dance, the music, the poetry (if only my Spanish were good enough, or there were subtitles, at least for the Lorca, to understand better her embodiment of it), the lighting, the set, all carefully planned for maximum effect—a son et lumière spectacle.

Lighting moves from shadowy dusky night to red sunspot, both capturing the performers in silhouette, to single spots enfolding Baras in her solos, to a heavy shower of rays that speckles the dancers’ shimmering costumes like fireflies. Painter Andrés Mérida has provided fresh paintings for her set panels, but for me lighting designer Oscar Gómez de los Reyes is the painter of the night.

Baras does not hog the limelight, her splendid dancers and superlative musicians, on guitars, percussion, flute (Pan pipes calling us to the dance…), saxophone and harmonica, get a chance to shine alone, and what a dream they are. If only one could join in the dance. Heads are bopping I notice, many are finding it impossible to keep still, as am I. It’s all about the beat: palmas, syncopated rhythms, and her feet in dialogue with her dancers and musicians, improvising, competing in call and response.

Fast costume changes (design Luis F Dos Santos) are part of the spectacle too: in tight black suit with red tie, she is a matador, in long dress she also plays the matador, her ‘cape’ sweeping before the imaginary bull. From fringed dresses to clever drapes, from slinky numbers to big shawls, this is her show, soulful and bold, Baras is a charismatic presence. Unmissable: if the Duke of Kent can make it (a couple of seats along), so can you… Lighting occasionally floods the auditorium inviting the audience to be part of the party, get in there…

Reviewer: Vera Liber