“Voces, Suite Flamenco”,
Sadler’s Wells, London
17th February, 2016
Sara Baras is an exceptional dancer and any opportunity to see her on-stage is well worth seizing. Her footwork is blisteringly fast, but nuanced with slower passages, all displaying great musicality. Further, her supple upper body, serpentine arms and rapid spins make you catch your breath at her virtuosity and expressive qualities. Her company is now a firm favourite in London and these performances were sold out before the show opened.
For Voces, Suite Flamenco Baras dances up a storm in a celebration of key figures of Flamenco who have been influential in the development of her art. It’s a heartfelt homage, but several aspects of the production fail to satisfy. For much of the performance there are dull, monochrome, unidentified images of the celebrated figures at the back of the stage and we hear recorded text by these artists at regular intervals. For Flamenco specialists and Spanish speakers this may have worked well, but I suspect that for most UK dance goers, this created longueurs. One of my favourite artists of the past – Antonio Gades – is remembered by a drastically shortened telling of the “Carmen” story. Gades’ version was one of his most popular works both on film and on-stage, but the mini version, choreographed by Baras, failed to ignite.
Alongside her own superb solos, Baras brought a Corps de Ballet of six fine young dancers and, with the exception of Carmen, created effective choreography for them in groups and short solos. Guest male dancer, José Serrano, also features rapid footwork, but with less interest in his arms and upper body. In an extended solo, his long build-up was over-stretched and it was a relief when he burst into his machine gun hammering of the floor. The guitarists brought great virtuosity and the singers emoted fiery passion, but I found the volume one or two notches too high, with my ears sometimes distorting the sounds.
One of the features of Baras performances is the move away from traditional costume and for the most part her four outfits worked well, especially a glorious white dress with a built in long shawl that she swings to great effect. In Farruca Baras wore black jacket and trousers – I read that this dance was usually performed by men or women dressed as men, so her suit accords with tradition. Accompanied by a small team of musicians at the side of the stage and with minimal lighting or stage effects, Baras held us in thrall as she stretched sinuously, her trousers emphasising the sculptural quality of the movement and poses and also allowing us to clearly see her flashing feet in the fastest sections. However, for the finale, she wore a green dress with layered tassels that spread out like a pine tree in the spins, destroying the line and distracting from the movement quality – a dress to mothball as soon as possible.
Nevertheless my initial premise remains – this production may have shortcomings, but Baras’ powerful, precise and impassioned dancing, which gained her a nomination for Best Classical Dancer at the recent National Dance Awards, always merits a visit.