Before watching Farruquito’s Improvisao at Sadler’s Wells last Friday, I’d never seen live flamenco before, but this performance created an atmosphere unlike anything I’ve seen in London so far this year. Farruquito performs with fierce enjoyment, surrounded by excellent musicians who between them bring the song and dance alive with electric energy.

Improvisao © Sophie Mühlenburg
Improvisao
© Sophie Mühlenburg

I can completely understand that professional flamenco dancers from Andalusian origins may struggle to comprehend how people from other countries can approach the art form that they have essentially been born into – particularly if those non Spanish-speaking people are attempting to become professional flamenco dancers. Nonetheless, I find myself approaching the issue from a different perspective: As a non Spanish-speaker with very little knowledge and no experience of flamenco, how can I presume to be able to write about it? Yet I soon forgot the matter of experience as I was consumed by the performance and simply enjoyed every minute of Improvisao.

From the moment the beat began (percussion by Ane Carrasco), the ambiance was almost palpable. The music rose slowly with solos from the two female singers (Mari Vizarraga and Mara Rey Navas) showcasing their strong, emotive voices. When Farruquito entered, the atmosphere became dark and dramatic, his stage presence changing the scene significantly. The gentle pulse of the music ramped up as Farruquito put his stamp on the developing Sequiriya piece – literally, he adds another layer to the already complex polyrhythm with his feet – his face serious and movements direct. Although the musicians are fairly static in comparison to the lone dancer, there is an amazing sense of movement pulsing through them, as if radiating from the space between the beats and dynamic rhythms that overlap as Farruquito dances.

This is unlike other performances in that, while obviously grounded in deep Andalusian roots and many years of training and performance, Improvisao is based in improvisation. So while we’re transported to a magical world imbued with tradition, it’s one that is being created by the performers imaginations as we watch. With a flamenco singer and dancer for parents, Juan Manuel Fernandez Montoya – Farruquito - has spent his entire life immersed in flamenco. No wonder he can create something fresh and original as he dances, without straying from the heritage of authentic flamenco. Perhaps that is why every element of the piece seems so genuine and unstrained: it comes naturally to all the performers; it’s flowing through their veins.

There is no artifice in this performance: there is visible emotion and wholehearted involvement on all counts. The group display an interesting dynamic - Farruquito often embraces the musicians, leans on their shoulders and physically responds to the words they sing or notes they play. The relationships between the lone dancer and the seven musicians around him (including guitarists Roman Vicenti and Juan Requenaare, and male singers Antonio Flores Cortes and Pepe de Pura) are alternately fun and flirty, intense and serious, but unfalteringly respectful. Each performer respects their fellows in terms of character, talent, and for the mutual effort that’s going into the performance. They’re not just performers doing their jobs, they’re equals and friends who have worked to create this performance – from scratch.

Farruquito © Sophie Mühlenburg
Farruquito
© Sophie Mühlenburg

What strikes me most about Improvisao is the feeling of engagement in the auditorium. The audience responses to the changes of pace, emotion and energy have a physical presence, and the performers clearly feel the benefit of the audience’s appreciation. Each section of dance ends with Farruquito grinning with exertion out toward the audience, while the audience go wild. This acknowledgement and appreciation of the viewers encourages the audience to remain wholeheartedly involved - so much so that Farruquito gets a standing ovation, and the group improvise a fun and feisty encore to uproarious applause, leaving the audience very pleased indeed. 

A feisty, dynamic and individual performance, Farruquito's Improvisao brings flamenco alive with energy and rhythm. The exciting atmosphere the lone dancer and group of musicians created at Sadler's Wells Theatre last Friday night was palpable.