The new production from Jaleo opens like a dull cultural exchange event and ends as a celebration generating ecstatic applause and standing ovations. Flamenco combines singing, dancing and guitar music into a potent brew. Just as well because the singing alone is, to put it mildly, an acquired taste.
Juan Reina has an incredible voice but the melodramatic, self-pitying tone of the singing would become wearying if it was not enlivened by the music. Carlos Ayala and El Ingles (a stage name that betrays his nationality) prove that guitars alone can provide as much rhythm as drums and base. They also offer irresistible running chords and spiky harmonies.
The show does not open well. The audience are left in darkness for several minutes whilst Reina performs a Martinete – a mournful cry. The authentic nature of the show is reflected in the percussion that comes from the sound of a hammer striking an anvil.
Just as you start to worry the whole evening is going to be a historical study of the development of the Flamenco the dancing begins and the show shapes up nicely. The passion of the performers makes sure that there is no risk of the show slipping into a lecture even though it is made up of a series of examples of the more famous types of Flamenco.
Flamenco is not a graceful dance style but it is exciting with rapid feet punching out a driving rhythm. The three dancers perform together and solo. There are subtle differences between each of them. Ana Blanco uses fan and sombrero to bring a Cuban influence to her seductive dance. Jose Leon concentrates on using her lithe body and swirling skirts to catch the eye. All of the dancers perform as palmeros providing percussive handclaps. This simple action helps to distinguish the Flamenco from other art forms and Jeleo convince that it is a skill in its own right.
Although the dancing is highly sensual the cast are dressed in sombre even funereal tones. This element of restraint provides some of the most memorable parts of the evening. With the singer and guitarists in black blending into the background all eyes are drawn to the dancers. Even though Blanco and Leon are allowed more colourful tones they are still wrapped tightly in clothes that conceal rather than reveal.
The third dancer, Adollo Vega, performs the most strenuous dances whilst suited and booted – even wearing a tie. This element of reality makes the dancers more human and exciting than if they had, say, simulated sexual actions onstage. It shows the sheer effort that Vega puts into his performance and emphasises his masculinity but does not make him a clichéd sexual object. It is a vibrant, exciting, but very real performance.
Each of the two acts ends with the cast gathering at the front of the stage to serenade the audience without amplification and then wandering off minstrel-like to new pastures. It is a charming conclusion to a great show.
Anyone bored with the musical compilation shows currently clogging up the touring schedules should rush to see the real thing.