Nuevo Ballet Español was founded in 1995 by the award-winning dancers Angel Rojas and Carlos Rodríguez. Their mission is to incorporate influences from popular, contemporary and folk dance without losing touch with flamenco traditions, and to broaden the appeal of flamenco to an international audience.
The opening of Flamenco Directo certainly has a showbiz appeal. A line of shoes is spread along the footlights, the nine dancers lying behind them so that only their hands are lit – very Bob Fosse. There follows a sparse but effective chorus-line number, the dancers’ outlines flattered by low-slung jeans and body-hugging T-shirts. The standard flamenco musical ensemble of guitars and voices is supplemented by a flute, a cello and a drum kit, imparting a jazzy and sometimes prog-rock slant to the musical arrangements.
some corny male-female duets that package passion into familiar gestures: she sways, he struts
For the rest of the show the dancers are in more familiar flamenco costumes – high-waisted trousers for the men, undulating skirts for the women. The standard of dancing is consistently high, but the set-pieces are of variable quality. At the bottom end of the scale are some corny male-female duets that package passion into familiar gestures and hokey tricks, as when Mayte Bajo sidles alongside Rodríguez: she sways, he struts. On the mid-scale are the ensemble pieces, which sharply focus the combined energies of the group – such as the moment when the company form a stationary phalanx, drilling their footbeats into the floor. And at the top end are the solos from Rodríguez and Rojas, both fine dancers who keep their line and rhythm. Rojas excels with his footwork, from soft staccato shuffles to rapid gunfire volleys; but tousle-haired Rodríguez has the edge on him, delivering a technically precise and physically intense performance, topped with natural showmanship.
This is a polished, crowd-rousing production, but it sometimes veers towards flamenco-lite. It is only at the encore, when two of the musicians take a turn at dancing, that you realise what’s been missing: a touch of real rawness.