The Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells is an eagerly awaited selection of performances. For those new to flamenco the wealth of choice can be daunting. The essential elements of flamenco are dance, song, and guitar. The Gala evening promises a glimpse of leading artists from each of these disciplines all in one show. As such, it serves as an ideal choice for those sampling flamenco for the first time.

El Lebrijano © Antonio Acedo
El Lebrijano
© Antonio Acedo

The aficionado in search of a raw flamenco performance is perhaps also more likely to find it on Gala night. Rather than a large choreographed company performance, a group of high achieving individuals is brought together for one evening:  artists who may rarely appear together otherwise. So, whether you’re a novice or a seasoned flamenco lover, the Gala promises to be a safe bet!

This year, the Flamenco Festival Gala brought award winning artists from the biannual flamenco festival of Seville. The Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía opened the show with a display of technical precision as a group of dancers interweave a large silk shawl. Stark black and white costumes against a bright pink backdrop accentuate the clean cut performance. Clarity and meticulous accuracy regenerate in the form of guitar music with Manuel Valencia. Rapid clean notes, strong compositions and sharp off-beats ensue.

Theatrical formality is shattered with the entrance of legendary singer El Lebrijano and his easy banter between audience and sound technician. Lit in a pool of vintage sepia, his familiar melodies are as comforting as a grandfather’s storytelling before a winter fire. Vocal tones of a bygone era surge as metallic notes of 'jondo' or deep flamenco grasp the air. Innate flamenco expression is released melodically and bodily, direct from the heart.

If Lebrijano’s voice clutches the air, then singer Antonio Reyes finely slices it. His musical virtuosity ranges from haunting sensitivity to wavering cries and brash clarity. Such versatility of sound across long musical phrases on a single breath is remarkable.  

© Antonio Acedo
© Antonio Acedo
The entrance of dancer Farruquito beating a table with his bare knuckles is reminiscent of Carmen Amaya in the popular flamenco film Los Tarantos. Farruquito’s elegant slow motion posturing reveals all the splendour of his hometown Sevilla with predatory outbursts of footwork. The simultaneous rhythmical intelligence, degree of light and shade, clarity, and speed of his escobilla or main footwork section simply defies belief. Farruquito embodies flamenco directly from the soul. Music and dance have no division – they become one.

As trusted, the Sadler’s Wells Gala served as both a great introduction to flamenco and a real treat for aficionados. It offered a diverse range of performances from high quality artists across flamenco disciplines and generations, skills ranging from technical prowess to passionate embodiment. It is certainly a show to look out for at next year’s Flamenco Festival!

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