Federico García Lorca is known as a poet and a playwright, but the art he first loved was music. Patrias, Paco Peña’s flamenco tribute to Lorca, also begins with music – a guitar solo of wandering harmonies, rasped chords and mournful melodies. Two dance solos then seem to emerge directly from Peña’s playing: first, the marvellously poised Ángel Muñoz takes the stage, his clean lines and exact placement pinned to the guitar’s changing rhythms; then the more lyrical Mayte Bajo, her turns and dips leaning into the musical phrasing.
The performers don’t act, but rather focus our attention on the subtleties of sound and the inflections of Fernando Romero’s choreography. Instead of projecting outwards, they pull us in. It’s utterly captivating.
Yet when the piece moves on to incorporate poetry and drama, and to refer explicitly to Lorca’s life, it loses direction. Verses and quotes are projected on to a backcloth, recited by a Spanish narrator (Jorge de Juan), or heard in a lacklustre English voiceover. Whether heart-catching (“long live death”), banal (“a sensitive, deep-thinking artist”) or heavy-handed (“turmoil, upheaval”, signals one projection), the words more intrude upon than complement the dancers and the band of musicians who have joined Peña on stage.
Film footage from the Spanish civil war is better integrated – you see the outlines of soldiers and civilians in the steps and formations of the live performers – but the narration of historical incident is both protracted and disjointed. A shame the dramaturgy and multimedia are so piecemeal, for the dancers and musicians continue as consummately as ever.