Presented by: Adelaide Festival
Reviewed: 10 March 2018
The art of flamenco dancing has been around for centuries. Mostly associated with Spanish dancers who twirl and turn to the sensuous rhythm of the beat, it has gained world-wide popularity. It’s an art-form unto itself with the almost hypnotic style of movement continuing to fascinate new generations. From classically trained performers to pop artists like Madonna, who featured it in in her video ‘Isla Bonita’, flamenco can transcend any genre. Those who may not automatically know the name will at least know what it looks and sound like. It’s such a unique way of dancing that it takes special skill to truly master it. One such person who has certainly conquered it is Israel Galvan, who has been named as ‘a rock star of Flamenco’. Whilst he doesn’t scream like a rocker, he dances at a furious pace sure to leave viewers breathless. Winning countless prizes but continuing his aims to move away from traditional flamenco, Galvan is bold with his choices and presentation.
Having its world premiere at Her Majesty’s Theatre for this year’s festival, Fla.Co.Men is an often astounding piece of work. On stage with a small ensemble of musicians and singers, Galvan seemed determined to present flamenco at its most primal. The stripped-back delivery of the dance revealed how it could entrance audiences and bring people together. It also showed how the accompanying music has influenced many genres and performers with hip hop, rap and others finding their origins from this melodic art-form. These sounds are just as important as the movement which itself created its own dynamic beats which added to the show’s intensity. Effective use was made of the many instruments on stage such as the xylophone, trumpet, clarinet and drums that emulated flamenco’s grandeur.
Where Fla.Co.Men went astray was in its presentation. Whilst the dancing and general craftsmanship was clearly seen, the over-arching ‘story’ connecting the dance sequences fell short. It would have been helpful had the audience been given some context as to what certain dance moves meant and why particular stylistic choices were made. Throughout the performance, the theatre was occasionally in total darkness without any reason given. This doesn’t mean viewers needed to be ‘spoon-fed’ an explanation, but a few kernels of information about why things were happening would have made it easier to invest in the production. This non-traditional way of presenting the show was certainly unique but had the habit of being a little pretentious and dull – which doesn’t appear to have been what the show intended.
Full props however for Galvan for not sinking into the ‘flamenco cliché’ of dancers with flowing dresses spinning on clipped heels. This at least differentiated Fla.Co.Men from others was highlighted the unpredictable nature of the piece. Galvan made a cheeky point of this at the end with an audience appreciative of his skills. The lighting and staging was also memorable with glowing vistas and dark shadows magnifying the depth of flamenco. Although the show had the effect of not being as accessible as it could have been, it did successfully convey how it unifies different generations and the passion involved. Galvan’s dancing was extraordinary and the vitality in doing those moves clearly seen. Moments of drama and comedy were also underscored and it’s easy to see where the likes of Michael Jackson and even mime artist Marcel Marceau got their ideas from.
Fla.Co.Men is a very different and sometimes glacially slow work. Those wanting a distinctive theatrical experience should be pleased with it. Others may perhaps find its move away from what one expects of a flamenco show to be too far out of their comfort zone. But nothing can take away from the energetic dance moves and amazing visions on display with the art of flamenco sure to endure for many more centuries to come.
Reviewed by: Patrick Moore