The annual Flamenco festival at Sadler’s Wells has always showcased the diversity of flamenco. This year’s central gala performance was a welcome opportunity to witness that variety in a single evening. Three very different dancers – Carmen Cortés, Rafaela Carrasco and Olga Pericet – headed the programme, giving audiences a chance not just to sample different styles and subjects, but to discover their preferences or hone their tastes.
The staging itself was standard but effective: a bare space for the dancers, chairs for the musicians, smoke-filled beams of light dramatically piercing the gloom. The prologue presented dancers and musicians in a stark, driving sequence of commanding claps and drilling footwork; then the programme fanned out, allowing the personalities to come to the fore. Cortés is the veteran of the group, and the most rooted in tradition. She dances as if possessed, whether by the roguish spirit that wriggled through her shoulders early in the evening, or by the dark soul that drove her long, restless soleá towards the end.
Cortés was rapturously received, but I was more taken by the younger dancers, less abandoned as performers but with sleeker techniques and a more modern approach. Carrasco has a choreographer’s mind, more interested in composition than in convention. A taut little number for three men in black was both sharp and smooth, the dancers slipping seamlessly through a series of triadic formations, passing a scarlet hat between them with each spin of the cycle. In another scene, Carrasco duetted with a cellist, answering the soar and rasp of his bow with her own poised spirals and sidelong looks, and the soft swirl of her fringed shirt.
Pericet is a diminutive figure with a towering presence, her fierce energy caged within a steely technique. She may fling her arms in a whiplash spin, but they hit the spot with a sting when she stops. This tension, between inner force and impersonal discipline, makes her riveting to watch. A lyrical, decorous number with castanets initially seemed less suited to her strengths; then she suddenly struck a tortuous pose, and the castanet chatter became a rattlesnake warning, freezing you to your seat.
The music was no less varied than the dance, folk forms mingling with flamenco, with contrasting instrumentations and vocal styles; the sophisticated piano arrangements of popular songs by Federico García Lorca were a special treat. All in all, it made for a stimulating as well as an entertaining evening.