Sara Baras is a natural choice to kick off the annual Flamenco festival at Sadler’s Wells. She is not only a formidable dancer but also a consummate professional: not for her the grime of the tavern, Baras is more at home in classy costumes and expert stagings.
La Pepa, choreographed in collaboration with her husband and fellow dancer José Serrano, was created to mark the centenary of the Spanish constitution of Cádiz. Therein, perhaps, lies its principal problem. The show yokes a series of flamenco numbers to a vague narrative that moves from wartime, through pastoral scenes of country folk and some thanksgiving to God, to a vision of homeland and liberty embodied in the patriotic figure of La Pepa (the nickname for the constitution), portrayed by Baras herself as a statue come to life. The unadulterated god-and-country values are both a little hard to stomach, and not a great choreographic stimulus.
The unadulterated god-and-country values are a little hard to stomach
That is a shame, because the quality of performance and production are as high as ever. The explosive beginning, in particular, shows much promise, orchestrating both clashing rhythms and taut unison within the dance ensemble to evoke the disorder and regimentation of a battle scene, before the performers exit to leave only a black cape lined with crimson: death without, blood within. Later scenes that highlight the driving footwork at which Baras excels, or the percussionists’ rhythmic complexity, echo the drumroll and gunfire of these opening shots. Elsewhere, there is a fair amount of great dancing in choreography for which the story is more pretext than motive, and with little of the inner conflict that flamenco can dramatise so effectively.
At the performance I saw, Baras even gestured questioningly at the audience a couple of times, as if puzzled why she hadn’t just hit the spot – because there was nothing wrong with her performance. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with the parts of La Pepa; it’s the whole that misses the mark.