Belén Maya and Manuel Liñán, Sadler’s Wells, London – review

The evening begins in a slightly disconcerting manner. After a few preliminary cries from the singers (two men, one woman: all in pretty ferocious, take-no-prisoners mood) the dancers are revealed, both in a flurry of grey, heavily be-flounced skirts. Perfectly unremarkable for her (Belén Maya, celebrated danseuse), but for him (Manuel Liñán, tremendous, as we soon learn, danseur)?

What ensues, more than generously amplified – such being the Wells’ way with flamenco – is distinctly tedious and not a little curious in that he proves to be hypnotically worth watching, despite the drag. Meanwhile she is trapped in clichés of flamenco (the grand curve of the torso, the rattling heels, the more-than-a-little-affronted expression) that turn folk art into predictability, which, experience suggests, is always the way with folk art.

Be that as it may, things improve vastly as this staging, devoted to these two dancers, gets under way. There are various hazards: the singers go on and dramatically and bruisingly on (my own belief is that what sound like anguished objurgations to fate might well be instructions on how to turn your decrepit sofa into a Thing of Beauty), but what matters is that both Maya and Liñán produce thrilling dance.

Especially Liñán. After teasing us with fragments, 20-second hints of bravura, he suddenly (rid of his frock) unleashes a torrent of steps, a purring, rattling, never-mind-the-sequins-on-his-trousers cadenza of transcendental flamenco that tells of an utterly communicative gift. He is an artist of dizzying power. You forgive the baying vocalists and are riveted by the flutter or drumming of his heels, the blaze of his virtuosity, its taut outlines, the way the dance inhabits him, takes possession of him.

In a solo played against a fine guitarist, with a chair as décor, he awakens rhythms, images, wildest possibilities of dance, and banishes the predictabilities of sitting in a theatre watching carefully staged flamenco. Something greater is manifest through his art. Belén Maya, admirable danseuse, mistress of all the traditional flamenco skills, is splendid in every way, plays with style, rhythms, dance itself. But Liñán tells a greater truth.

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