Sadler’s Wells
London

14th June 2024

Stuart Sweeney

 

Ballet National de España (BNE) brought Invocación to Sadler’s Wells as part of the Flamenco Festival, which featured ten companies and solo performers and has been running for more than twenty years. The BNE website states that its purpose is, “…to preserve, spread and convey Spain’s rich choreographic heritage, including its diverse styles and traditions, which are represented by different forms: academic, stylised, folklore, bolera, and flamenco.” One of my favourite flamenco creators, Antonio Gades, was its original director.

We saw a variety of these styles and the dancers are terrific, performing complex steps, sometimes twenty strong, in perfect synchronisation. However, I found the occasional solos stood out, as the large-scale ensembles lacked the bite and drama of traditional flamenco. Further, the producers took an unusual step in the first half. The three separate works were performed without a pause, giving the impression of a single piece. Even after reading the programme, it took me a little while to acknowledge that a new work had started. Some very knowledgeable dance friends without a programme, were completely baffled, wondering why the elements of a single work fitted together so badly.

Ballet National de España – Invocacion Bolera
Image: Jesus Robisco

Invocación bolera by BNE director, Rubén Olmo, opened the programme. The programme notes explain that the bolero is a style from 18thC Spain, fusing Andalusian folk dance with ballet. We saw traditional Spanish steps alongside entrechats and jetes. It worked best with smaller groupings and some magnificent cape work by the men. When we saw around twenty dancers in unison, often in dull straight lines, the effects were diminished. The recorded score, by Manuel Busto, was often dissonant and failed to add value.

Ballet Nacional de España – Jauleña
Image: Jesus Robisco

Jauleña, a solo also choreographed by Olmo, features a mix of styles introducing more stylised movement alongside bolero and flamenco.  José Manuel Benítez was able to smoothly execute the varying steps in a bright red suit. Eterna Iberia, by Antonio Najarro took us back to large scale dance in a variety of styles. The dancers were again impressive, but the patterns they made did not excite.

All three pieces in the first half were danced to recorded orchestral music and the second half opened to applause as the audience saw the guitarists and singers we expect to see accompanying flamenco. De lo Flamenco, is a tribute to Mario Maya, described in the programme as, “a brilliant dancer and choreographer,” surprisingly featured for the first time by the BNE.

Ballet National de España – De lo Flamenco
Image: Jesus Robisco

This was more successful than the first half, with much greater variety in ten short sections. A fierce flamenco solo by Matías López, was full of the focussed passion missing from much of the evening. Taranto, a solo danced by Laura Vargas displayed excellent technique and spins with a swirling skirt. Cinco Toreros featured five matadors who strutted around the stage with supreme confidence. Another section featured a group of men round a table, beating out complex rhythms on the top, while surrounded by women.

Much as I appreciated sections of Invocación, my personal taste for flamenco and other Spanish dance forms remains for the companies featuring individual or small numbers of dancers, rather than those dominated by large ensemble work.