Review: Flamenco Festival 2019 – Gala Flamenca

MARIA MORENO - GALA FLAMENCA

Flamenco continues to evolve – even within the traditional style. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, without warning it grabs you, challenges your perceptions, leaves you wonderstruck. The Gala Flamenca show at Sadler’s Wells did exactly that when Mercedes Ruiz, Maria Moreno and Eduardo Guerrero each gave their heart and soul into every step and dazzled with boundless energy, individual style and personality. 

Guest singer Maria Terremoto kick-started the show with a punch. Her voice and passion have the power to touch even the most hardened souls. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand a single word – the passion gets through to the heart. Even my friend’s 15-year old son, a native of Cadiz and now a UK resident, unexpectedly found himself touched by the sincerity of her singing and rekindled his connection with his Andalucian heritage. Terremoto is the youngest recipient ever to receive the Giraldillo award for new artist at the Seville Flamenco Biennial, and it’s a delight to listen to a young singer who evokes the virtuosity and maturity of someone who has lived a life.  

Maria Terremoto - Gala Flamenca. Photo by Juan Conca
Maria Terremoto – Gala Flamenca. Photo by Juan Conca

In the solo Alegria number, the formidable María Moreno swept her Bata de Cola with grace and agility while simultaneously swirling a giant shawl with speed and dexterity. She started dancing flamenco at a tender age of eight, and honed her skills learning from masters such as Rafaela Carrasco, Javier Latorre and Antonio Canales. She later joined and performed with the Eva Yerbabuena flamenco company. 

I’ve heard so much about Mercedes Ruiz, but have never seen her perform live. The moment she appeared, the petite dancer instantly lit up the stage with her big smile and warm personality. Mercedes has a distinctive style that refreshes traditional flamenco with subtle movements, such as the jiggling of the shoulders, body contractions and contortions, and that unmistakable cheeky Jerezano attitude. Mercedes performed a solo number accompanied only by Maria’s singing, during which she wore a black trouser outfit, a departure from the usual frilly dress.

Mercedes Ruiz - Gala Flamenca. Photo by Juan Conca
Mercedes Ruiz – Gala Flamenca. Photo by Juan Conca

The choreography showed off her versatility to adopt a more contemporary style while playing the castanets. Apart from her fluidity, what caught my attention in particular was the way she used her hands. I was taught the classical way of fanning one finger at a time as the wrist rotates in and out. Then there’s the modern style that involves flicking the wrist inwards to form a fist. Mercedes uses her hands with the softness of an undulating silk handkerchief to complement her lyrical style, while also creating a sharp contrast with staccato arm movements.  

The Caña number was the sole domain of tall, long-legged Eduardo Guerrero. With his cascading jet-black hair and beard, I pictured the dynamic dancer as a villainous Wild West bounty hunter, or even a Jesus Christ figure. Perhaps the closest comparison is that to Joaquin Cortes in terms of stature and for their penchant for baring their chest (he didn’t on this occasion). But the comparison stops here. Eduardo is the real deal when it comes to male flamenco machismo and raw talent.

Eduardo Guerrero - Gala Flamenca. Photo by Juan Conca
Eduardo Guerrero – Gala Flamenca. Photo by Juan Conca

He excels in contemporary and experimental styles, and is equally adept at traditional flamenco, which we were fortunate to witness. His footwork comprised of steps I have not seen performed by other male dancers before. Also, he didn’t dwell on poses. What he gave the audience was choreography stuffed with so much content, including bending backwards like a contortionist. During a momentary pause, a female audience shouted “Guapo!” (handsome), which made him smile. 

 Gala Flamenca surpassed my expectations and putting together this company of dancers, singers and excellent musicians was down to artistic director, Manuel Liñan. There were no gimmicks, just flamenco in its purest form, with added spice, power and fresh artistry.  

Reviewed at Sadler’s Wells on 12th of July

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