Review of Flamenco Republic Maria Pagés flamenco dance company 10th March 2001

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Flamenco Republic - Maria Pagès

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Teatro Villamarta, Jerez de la Frontera

Saturday 10th March 2001

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This show took place during the Festival de Jerez (Cadiz) from 27th February to 11th March 2001 - probably the most important flamenco festival in Andalusia.

 

gawky figure

 

 

flamenco humour

 

 

 

Everybody talks about Maria Pagés’ very long arms. As I watched her show at the Teatro Villamarta in Jerez on the 10th March, I realised her arms aren’t exceptionally long, even if the way she uses them creates some anatomically impossible moments. In fact, she is all legs. Her torso is correspondingly short, which makes her arms look long. In any case, my point is that she manages to turn her rather gawky figure into a graceful tool of expression.

One of the most delightful parts of the show was a sketch with Pagés cast as a frumpy schoolmistress, fussily using fan, castanets and cane all in one number to castigate the other dancers. I took this as a good-natured play on her angular looks. This sketch also contained a very funny percussion dialogue between Pagés and Manuel Soler. Humour in flamenco? Yes, thank goodness. A Teatro Villamarta audience who have sat through eleven big flamenco shows on consecutive nights welcomed these touches of light-heartedness. This section saved the show, because the audience had become a little restless during some of Pagés’ longer arm solos.

string bending virtuosity

 

 

 

 

palmas

 

 

 

The first part of the night was dedicated to the guitar wizardry of Cañizares, who has dropped his first name, Juan Manuel, but didn’t drop a single note during his edge-of-seat guitar extravaganza. His music is highly complex and tangential to the classic forms of flamenco, as you might expect from someone who has toured extensively as a member of Paco de Lucia’s guitar trio of Paco, Cañizares and José Maria Bandera. Cañizares adopted that pose so characteristic of Lucia-style flamenco guitar soloists, (head tilted back and to one side, eyes squeezed shut, lips pursed) and treated the audience to an hour of his string-bending, fret-redefining virtuosity. Some breathtaking passages are memorable, particularly a long, extremely quiet tremolo which stopped the whole audience in its tracks. Cañizares’ music is quite brilliant, but so far removed from anything recognisable that the applause seemed startled rather than appreciative.

Being resident in Jerez, one gets used to excellent palmas as a matter of course. Jerez is the flamenco world’s rhythm nursery, where compás is king. The residents of this town have their own unique way of feeling the rhythms of flamenco, particularly the buleria, which was invented in Jerez. I suppose I am so spoilt by this that I was alarmed by the weak and sloppy palmas of the company, particularly in one number which aimed to make them a showpiece. This is understandable in dancers who are used to dancing to guitar arrangements and are perhaps not used to spending hours doing palmas for other people at flamenco gatherings. The very flamenco skill of good handclapping is something which often gets lost in the mix in theatre flamenco shows.

percussive feet

 

 

 

singers in darkness

 

 

The final tangos, all a palo seco (without guitar, just clapping, heels and voices) were highly infectious, and were obviously the idea of Manuel Soler (star of the show for me), coming across very spontaneously on stage. Manuel Soler is an excellent percussionist and dancer who has toured and recorded with Paco de Lucia. He really added an extra sparkle to the company. There is a simple gypsy grace and joy in his movements which you can’t resist. You could still hear people doing palmas por tangos in the centre of Jerez an hour after the show.

I was baffled to see Antonio de la Malena, the excellent singer para bailar, taking a bow with the company at the final curtain, as I hadn’t recognised his voice at any point during Flamenco Republic. The musicians and singers were shrouded in darkness, so I hadn’t spotted him either. This is probably because he was given singing parts which were tied closely to the choreography and thus didn’t allow his Jerezano earthiness to emerge, yet it does indicate a general lack of attention to the cante in Flamenco Republic. The female singer who provided the (not outstanding) vocal input to most of the numbers is not even credited on the programme.

scratchy old record

 

rummage-bag of flamenco forms

 

 

 

This is the new flamenco democracy, where any new idea can be made acceptable if it is well-presented. The “Old Régime” is represented in Pagés’ siguiriya by black-and-white lighting and a scratchy old record playing in the background. The scratchy record is gradually drowned out by the musicians on the stage playing a more modern version.

Despite the lack of good cante, Flamenco Republic is an appealing rummage-bag of flamenco forms, enlivened by refreshing touches of humour, and reflects the diversity of the artists. Virtually every prop known to flamenco (cajón, fans, castanets, and walking sticks in one number, for example), was used in an effort to create variety and maintain interest for the theatre crowd, which contained a majority of non-Spaniards, including many Japanese, Americans and Germans, all aficionados and therefore all citizens of the Flamenco Republic.

 

Content "Flamenco Republic"
© David Hill 2001

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