When adapting flamenco for the theatre, directors often go for one of two approaches: the variety option – a showcase of distinct flamenco numbers – or the drama option, using flamenco to tell a story. Paco Peña’s new show A Compás certainly belongs to the first category, but it’s far more than just a showcase. By focusing on a single aspect of flamenco – the rhythm – Peña gives continuity to the evening, and he also tells a certain story about flamenco itself; how it is made and performed.
They neither play to the gallery nor milk the crowd – yet their concentration and clarity wins over the audience from the beginning
If that sounds a little worthy, don’t worry. This is an engrossing, enjoyable evening. The opening Alboreá introduces the company of seven musicians and three dancers, with undulating María Franco offset against upright Ángel Muñoz and Ramón Martínez. They neither play to the gallery nor milk the crowd – yet their concentration and clarity wins over the audience from the beginning.
At the heart of the evening are scenes that dramatically set out the relations between music and dance. In the Alegrías, Martínez evokes a playful spirit simply by moving to music: he grabs beats out of the air in his fists, he rides roughshod over a musical accent, drills a tattoo into the floor. In a duet between Muñoz and Peña on guitar, Muñoz at first simply outlines the pulse; then he begins to mirror more complex patterns in lunges and pivots, and finally he stamps out his own rhythms in the musical gaps. It’s like seeing a dancer grow directly out of the music, and then begin to answer back.
The duet evolves: Martínez substitutes Muñoz, another guitarist appears; singers join in, and Martínez and Muñoz now dance together. Who needs a story when there is so much drama in these dialogues? They enact struggle, flirtation, agreement, submission. The slow accumulation of complexity is so unforced that by the uplifting finale you’re scarcely aware that you’ve been given a whole education in flamenco form and feeling.