Sadler’s Wells
London

18th April 2024

Stuart Sweeney

Sadler’s Wells has concluded their Elixir Festival, celebrating older people in dance and bringing young and not so young performers together. Paco Peña’s Solera has a similar perspective, combining dancers, guitarists and singers across the generations. And who better to deliver this concept than 81 year old Paco Peña. The title derives from a vineyard technique where young wine is slowly matured in a series of barrels until it finally takes on the characteristics of a mature, delicious wine.

Director, Jude Kelly, has created an innovative structure for the show. The first half has a rehearsal format, opening with the artists gathering in their street clothes. They take it in turns to experiment and at one point, Peña turns on a recording, as if to provide inspiration. At the end of each segment, the artists support and congratulate each other. We are introduced to the dancers, guitarists, singers and the impressive percussionist, Julio Alcocer. The second half provides the finished product of a Flamenco show.

Paco Peña’s Solera
Photo: Elliott Franks

Paco Peña is never one to steal the limelight and he gives all the artists a chance to shine. His own guitar skills remain undiminished, playing with an elegant and gentle style, but with finger work as rapid as ever, when required. Rafael Montilla and Dani de Moron bring their own distinctive styles to their guitar solos and the ensemble sections with Peña.

Although in the UK we tend to give precedence to the dancers, this is not the Flamenco tradition and Peña and Kelly make sure the male and female singers get equal weighting, either on their own or inspiring the dancers. Inmacueldo Rivero sings with clear force and passion. Iván Carpio, brings an effective harsher tone in the most dramatic moments. It’s a pity that we don’t understand their texts, no doubt describing love, heartbreak and loss, rather than, “Oh dear, I’ve left my bus pass at home.”

Paco Peña’s Solera
Photo: Elliott Franks

And so to the dancers – Gabriel Matias is a young man from Brazil with pure, elegant lines. His fast spins are thrilling and with rapid foot work, his upper body is almost still. Angel Muñoz has danced with Peña for more than twenty years and if he has filled out a little since the early days, he can still deliver rapid spins and exciting steps, while adding touches of humour and flourish picked up over the years. Adriano Bilbao makes up the trio of dancers and I particularly enjoyed her serpentine arms. If I have one criticism of the production overall, I would have liked to see a richly deserved solo from Bilbao in the second half, as were allocated to her male companions.

Paco Peña’s Solera
Photo: Elliott Franks

Fernando Romero is credited as choreographer, and he provided a variety of styles and combinations for the three dancers. The high spot for me was the love duet between Bilbao and Muñoz. It’s not often we see Flamenco used in narrative and it was a revelation. The steps embody the passion of their love and the anguish of their break-up, and the dancers are truly expressive.

In his solo, Matias, provided a riveting display of whirlwind steps and precise execution. The opening of the second half featured Taconeo, the heels of all three dancers stamping out a furious rhythm with only a percussion accompaniment. The tight, trousered, white costumes enabled a clear view of the speedy footwork, but somehow didn’t look quite right for Flamenco.

The audience was in rapture and a standing ovation led to an encore where Inmaculada, the singer, showed off her dancing skills. A final thought: a week before, I had seen the excellent Kathak show, Mehek at Sadler’s. One cultural theory proposes that our European gypsies originally came from India. I have to say that the rapid spins, footwork and arm movements of Flamenco reminded me very much of Kathak – two of my favourite dance forms.