In 2017, the Ballet Nacional de España (Spain’s National Ballet, BNE) premiered the piece Electra, with choreography by Antonio Ruz and guest inputs from flamenco dancer and choreographer Olga Pericet. The production was warmly received by audiences and critics alike, soon becoming the most important addition to the repertory of the company in recent years. Its intensely dramatic sophistication certainly lived up to the expectations that demanded a work equal in quality to one of the gems of the Spanish repertory, José Granero’s Medea (1984) with music by Manolo Sanlucar and a story that also stems from a Greek tragedy. Madrid’s Teatro Real has now presented the work during its Christmas season, and the BNE has seized the opportunity to stage again this dramatic showcase of the technical and expressive excellence of the company.

Inmaculada Salomón
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real

The dance vocabulary of Electra perfectly matches BNE’s signature language, which despite its name, is not ballet but Spanish theatre dance (a stylised dancing technique which blends ballet, bolero school, flamenco and the rest of Spanish traditional dances). Ruz, whose training includes flamenco, Spanish theatre dance, ballet and contemporary dance, created a choreography that together with Pericet’s contributions remarkably infuses a Spanish dancing flavour into this story of family rancour. Most importantly, it renders the tragic story of Electra with such elegance and economy of means that every small gesture and step becomes intensely dramatic. In spite of its subtle simplicity, the movements, including expressive stillness and unhurried gestures, convey a full range of violent actions and powerful emotions such as deep sorrow, youthful joy, and lively camaraderie. The four murders in the story, pivotal to the narrative, are enacted concisely but forcefully.

A key aspect of Electra’s success is the dramaturgy that underpins the dancing. Conceived by Alberto Conejero, it makes the story progress through seven scenes plus a prologue and an epilogue, which rounds off the story with a recapitulation of the tragedy. A very successful strategy is the reduction of the chorus to just one character, its leader, known as the Coryphaeus. Here she is interpreted by a flamenco singer whose lyrics, written by Conejero, narrates and comments on the events in the plot. In this performance, the immaculate diction and deeply emotive singing of Sandra Carrasco supported the enactment of the story with vibrant clarity.

Inmaculada Salomón and company
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real

The music, with a commissioned orchestra score by Pablo Martín Caminero and flamenco fragments by Moisés Sánchez and Diego Losada, possess an understated drive and austere quality that impeccably blends with Ruz’s elegant choreography. The solo passages as well as the sequences in silence or with only the percussive sounds coming from the stage (either from the footwork or/and the castanets played by the dancers) illustrate the music’s reliance in powerful simplicity and in pristine clarity to suggest meaning.

A minimalist trait dominates the visual components of the production. Paco Azorín’s set designs and Rosa García Andujar’s costume designs use greys and ochres to complement the dominant black and white colours. The lighting, by Olga García, creates an intimate atmosphere to frame the turbulent story. The tableaux vivants that introduce and summarise the story in the prologue and the epilogue are possibly the best examples of the strong dramatic impact of the visual aspects of the piece.

Sara Arévalo
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real

The performers this evening were outstanding. In addition to Carrasco’s poignant singing, Inmaculada Salomón’s highly expressive dancing as Electra conveyed the shades of a soul full of sorrow; Esther Jurado, as Electra’s mother Clytemnestra, portrayed a character of regal presence and emotional coldness; Antonio Correderas, playing Agamemnon, was a haunting presence onstage; and Albert Hernández, in the role of Electra’s brother Orestes, emanated youthful vitality. It was beautiful to see the siblings’ duet, which evolves from childhood complicity to gritty determination to avenge their father’s death. Antonio Najarro (previous BNE’s Artistic Director and the person who commissioned Electra) made a guest appearance as Egisto, Clytemnestra’s lover. His commanding dancing qualities lead the number that triggers the tragic denouement of the story. The two ensembles, one female, the other male, were both faultless in their dancing technique and in their dramatic commitment to the story. Hooray for all of them!