Paco Peña’s first touring group, founded in 1970, was called Flamenco Puro. But Peña is no purist, having collaborated with a wide range of artists, once even sharing the stage with Jimi Hendrix. Besides, flamenco has always been an impure art, an evolving mixture of cultures and styles.
Besides, flamenco has always been an impure art, an evolving mixture of cultures and styles.
That much is apparent from the beginning of Pena’s new show, Voces y Ecos, which opens with Peña sitting at a computer screen accompanied by a fragmented voiceover that attempts to describe the nature of flamenco. By way of explanation, the first half recreates a brief history of flamenco, from the opening tableau of a 19th-century café cantante, to a turn-of-the-century theatre backed with art nouveau posters, and finally to a starkly lit modern stage. The dance and costumes change with the sets, from the seemingly spontaneous improvisations in the tavern, through lighter and more folky styles, to a tensely erotic duet that’s clearly geared to a contemporary audience, sleekly executed by Angel Muñoz and Isabel Bayon.
Each scene opens with archive recordings of music, which are taken up by the live musicians, voices from the past finding their echo in the present.
If the first part looks back, the second looks around and forward. The set is a rehearsal studio, the musicians idly playing riffs of jazz, rock, reggae and rumba. In practice clothes, the five dancers doodle about, peppering their struts and twists with ballet and jazz. Gradually the dancing becomes more tautly choreographed, but those various influences still permeate the basic flamenco style right through to the final slick production number, a group dance that also showcases each individual performer.
The most striking of these is Angel Muñoz, his lean lines and razor spins perfectly complementing his aquiline features. Fernando Romero is broader and gentler, while of the women Isabel Bayon is swivel-hipped and irrepressibly flirtatious, Charo Espino earthy and mature, but Alicia Marquez seems unduly restrained, lacking strength and pliability in the upper back.
At well over two hours, Voces y Ecos would benefit from some editing. Still, unlike some other shows, this is no picture-postcard tour of gypsy exotica, nor a razzle-dazzle showbiz display. Instead, it realises Peña’s open vision of flamenco’s diversity while remaining true to its soul.