Flamenco is a simple art form, born of the streets in necessity, poverty, pity and pain and there are times (as in last night's piece by Mi Flamenco) when such simplicity, performance pared to the bone, speaks directly to the heart and hindbrain without artifice or subterfuge.
Last night's show also began in dark simplicity – a single, empty spotlight and the lone, plaintive strummings of Uri Tal's flamenco guitar. Then joined in melancholic harmony by Nick Squires' eloquent cello. Almost lost in the acoustics of their melancholic tones the eye was drawn to the statuesque lead dancer, Ester Tal, barefooted and swaying enigmatically in and out of the lone spotlight. Accompanied by her scarf the swaying, swelled to swirling, stooping and stomping – each gesture carefully nuanced to complement the music and punctuate the expression of solitude and sadness building to the entry and opening song of Luis Vargas Monge, whose lamenting tones and direct connection between heart and voice underpinned the evening's performance. The crescendo of the act began when Kelian Jiminez, lead dancer, strutted on stage and stared down the audience, before beginning to dance, clap and click his fingers forming the rhythm section which drove the night's performance.
The second act opened with an ensemble piece expressing camaraderie, common purpose and pleasure in the performance of flamenco and this section was clearly biographical, reflecting the community and tradition of the musicians and dancers who hail from Jerez de la Frontera. Here the performers came into their own, expressing a gamut of emotions through joy, love and jealousy and their music, dance and song wove complex patterns for the eye, ear and heart. Ultimately, the act built to a duet between the lead dancers in which they demonstrated controlled, yet passionate technique and a fluidity born of familiarity and at times, fervid enthusiasm.
Act Three 'White' closed the evening's performance with a more modern setting still based on the company's impassioned interpretation of flamenco. Here again the interplay between the lead dancers captured the eye and provoked the emotions but ultimately this was a demonstration of the effectiveness and complexity of ensemble performance. El Flamenco showed that great music and dance can be born of simple roots, instruments and movements but their effective blending and passionate interpretation can elevate performance on many levels capturing the eye, enthralling the heart and speaking viscerally to great emotional effect.
Incognito was indeed a good name for this show, particularly as Mi Flamenco are actually a charity founded on the belief in the transformative power of the arts. As flamenco is a musical tradition born of the marginalised, ostracised and vulnerable it makes sense to reach out to people in our modern society who find themselves in similar positions and to give them a means of expressing their pain, disappointment, hopes and fears through music and dance. Performance of flamenco has always contained an element of reconciliation – expressing in music and dance emotions that are difficult to articulate and communicate - a bridge and an emotional bond between people and communities and it is laudable that the company are able to carry on these traditions by involving those who are struggling to succeed to join with the creative flare of their performances.