Israel Galván’s FLA.CO.MEN is an exuberantly madcap, yet frustrating start to the annual Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells. Galván’s got a reputation for pushing the boundaries of his form, and FLA.CO.MEN is by no means the traditional fare – the only sighting of a polka dot or a frill is at the show’s close when Galván appears in a dress that features both and lifts it to reveal various bits of support strapping on his legs and a pair of red Y-fronts. There are other cursory gestures towards gender – he wears a white apron to begin with, before donning a little corset. But this isn’t really a show about anyone’s identity but Galván’s own, and it’s more about whims than ideas.
At one point he stops to have a snack and a drink at the side of the stage, before clattering through the auditorium in the dark. Audience discomfort is also ramped up when Galván and his musicians descend into silence, stillness and darkness for about three very long minutes. He smashes a white ceramic boot and scatters the bits around. The lighting turns blue and he makes some obscure movements to a sploshy soundtrack. He clips pieces of blank paper to his trousers. The musicians later pelt him with the scrunched up paper. It all just seems a little empty and self-indulgent, although when Galván’s actually dancing his virtuosity is undeniable. The chattering of his heels, his fluttery finger clicks, wrist flourishes and his scimitar arms – it’s all completely awe-inspiring.
That Galván’s own body is a percussive instrument is taken to the extreme of him careering headlong and horizontally into a drum and tapping out complex rhythms on his belly. But it’s hard to see how, as the programme notes claim, he’s using himself as a full orchestra, brass and all. The musicians around him play an interesting mix of traditional flamenco and saxophone-infused jazz, with screeching strings for good measure. Galván may well be at flamenco’s avant garde, but left to his own devices he seems to be heading in the tiresome direction of up-his-own-arse.
Also running at 90 minutes, Eva Yerbabuena’s Apariencias was a much more compelling and emotionally legible affair, if a little diffuse. Yerbabuena is joined by three wonderful singers, two musicians and four young male dancers, showing off bare chests and copious amounts of hair pomade. There’s also a young female dancer (Maise Perez) who’s inexplicably underused. She gets to wear a bald cap and stand on a chair, but it’s the men who really strut their stuff. Their ensemble work is a knockout – they’re all like ferociously balletic bulls with too much testosterone and turbo-hooves.
For the men and Yerbuabuena herself the choreography also strays into more grounded contemporary dance territory – swirling a tasselled shawl, her upper body veers from the proud carriage we’d expect to a suddenly agonised sideways slump. By the final section, though, Yerbabuena is on traditional fiery form, dressed in black with a flower in her hair – she’s a tour de force, with feet and arms that articulate reams about rage and romance.
The Flamenco Festival continues until 26th February 2017 at Sadler’s Wells. Click here for more details.