The world won’t forget about the extraordinary power of dancer Antonia Santiago Amador, despite her abusive ex-husband’s best efforts. Born into a Catalan gypsy family and nicknamed La Chana (after her uncle, the guitarist El Chano), she’s an entirely self-taught flamenco phenomenon whose early brush with Hollywood stardom, via an appearance in Peter Sellers’ film The Bobo, wasn’t allowed to develop into anything further, despite the offers.
Now in her early seventies and suffering from injured knees, she dances sitting down. Hence the series of chairs that form a backdrop to this production, with projected images of La Chana over each wing. From her seated position, La Chana still produces stunning staccato footwork, morphing and melding rhythms like lines of podiatric poetry. Then she’ll whip out an unexpected heel to punctuate a phrase. It’s a glorious performance, with the musicians gathered reverentially around her throne.
Younger dancers also pay tribute to the ‘Goddess of the Beat’. Gema Moneo combines control and containment with a wild flair, while El Farru delivers turbo-charged zapateo and slinkily prowls around the stage. Antonio Canales proves something of a showboater, whipping out his ponytail to rapturous whoops.
Flamenco, especially of the traditional gypsy sort, has to be viewed through the lens of patriarchal values. But this is a proudly matriarchal show that’s unafraid to look at the ageing dancer’s body and celebrate its skill. In the spirit of indomitable older females, I will be imagining my cat as a La Chana in feline form – La Tuna, dancing to an insistent beefy beat on the living room laminate floor.
Gala Flamenca La Chana was at Sadler’s Wells’ Flamenco Festival until February 23rd. For more details, click here.