We celebrate this year the 10th anniversary of Sadler’s Wells’ flamenco festival. We have every reason to rejoice in our memories of the fine frenzies and fine bravura of this most vivid aspect of Spanish dance, and to thank the Wells for such marvels as the earth-divinity Carmen Cortés, and that Paganini of flamenco, Israel Galvan, who returns next Sunday for a single performance and Should Not Be Missed.
Last Sunday, Farruquito, with impeccable dance lineage, arrived to strut his stuff. And here, once again, I face my sole problem with the Wells and flamenco: the use of an amplified – indeed over-amplified – stage. The need, apparent to the producers but not to this admirer, to make every footfall, every eagerly bayed exhortation from the singers, beat at our eardrums, is vastly tedious. It bloats artistry until it is deformed into mannerism, flamenco’s conventions made crass and given a nagging insistence, while production becomes touristic cliché, yet more bait for a coach-tour. And this is surely what the best flamenco should not be: with its urgencies made automatic, its attitudes distorted, it loses savour and that vital and historic furia which made such sublime artists as Carmen Amaya, whom I revered, burningly immediate in performance.
No doubts about the skills of Farruquito, justification for this all too slick and sound-deforming display. He is master of every heel-rattle, every minatory or gaspingly exultant pose, and every appeal to public appreciation of his presence. Surrounded by more than eager vocalists – their voices acquiring banshee resonance – and a fine guitarist (Román Vicenti) among the musicians, on a stage lit within an inch of its life, with the admirable Karime Amaya as a dancing companion whose gifts were elegantly disciplined, with amplification doing its damnedest to make noise noisier, Farruquito moves; holding himself in predictable poses, and unleashing cascades of steps in a somehow indiscriminate manner, he challenges his public all the while not to clap, cheer, shout Olé, and generally understand that there is white smoke coming out of the chimney. The event was as brash as can be, cleverly calculated, and I found it a noisy disappointment.