The Hispanic festivities at the Wells have brought the inevitable evening cheerily described as a Flamenco gala. On Tuesday night this meant four distinguished dancers, two splendid guitarists, a drummer and three vocalists of more than usual grace of means. It also meant the usual longueurs – “why doesn’t she get on with it?” the ever-present mental question – but also in this instance a certain curiosity about the first artist in the event.
Laura Rozalén is a more generously formed danseuse than we usually find in these surroundings, and her opening solo proposed curlicued activities of an unexacting – not to say lethargic – kind, which did nothing for the evening’s possibilities. There followed considerably more vivacious behaviour from Olga Pericet and Marco Flores, who variously tore flamenco passions to tatters, drummed their heels, stamped repeatedly, showed us a fine blaze of temperament, vivid steps and no less vivid poses, and displayed most of the flamenco behaviour that we know and love and hope will ignite their (and our) responses. Both artists are grand in gifts as in bravura, able to state and then elaborate musical and rhythmic ideas to everyone’s delight.
But it was the appearance of Mercedes Ruiz which won my heart, raised the temperature, and spoke about flamenco with a commanding truth and virtuosity. In a dark-hued dress, with an empress’s profile and dignity, with castanets purring, with a sense of rhythm that defied any argument, she danced. Things began slowly, simply, for flamenco and then the demon took possession. (As, in flamenco, the demon should, and brooking no resistance from performer or public!) Heels, castanets, arms, proposed rhythms, attitudes. The dance took command, drove Ruiz magnificently onwards. Voices and guitar fed her need for energy, occupied her body.
We saw a grand blaze of artistry, obsession made flesh, the fierce impulse of the dance surging through her frame. We saw flamenco as you can catch it at such precious and fascinating moments, the dance all-consuming – it was thus with Carmen Amaya, that flamenco genius – and the dance itself transcending its messenger. The rest of the evening was perfectly agreeable and heel-drummingly ardent. But Ruiz (and her admirable musicians) told us about flamenco.