Sara Baras © Carmen Romero
Sara Baras
© Carmen Romero
Flamenco dance diva Sara Baras’s flamenco credentials are undisputed and her popularity is huge with Spanish and British audiences alike. Born in the same streets of Cadiz that gave the world the precocious flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla in the 1970s, she is regarded by many as being one of Spain’s greatest flamenco dancers. Baras is renowned for dancing with great soul, and her brand of flamenco is contemporary with lightning precision. Her dancers and musicians are as virtuosic as you would expect them to be. 

La Pepa's first scene references the Spanish War of Independence 1808-1814. La Pepa is the nickname given to the 1812 Spanish Constitution of Cadiz, and this production is a loosely woven telling of the story. Celebrating the 200th anniversary of the signing of the 1812 Spanish Constitution of Cadiz, La Pepa expresses the horror of war and then contrasts it by celebrating the country and its women, the beauty of the land, happiness, life and freedom.

The renowned Keko Baldomeros is musical director, and leads singers and musicians on guitar in this production. His music matches the style of Baras’s and Serrano’s choreography in its contemporary nature.

In the opening number, dancers are in silhouetted poses against a dark backdrop, all colour muted. Then they erupt and dance a martinete – the fiery and percussive song form that started life amid the heat, smoke and hammers of the Andalusian blacksmith’s forge. Then, out of the chaos of war, in a change of mood and lighting, we see Baras for the first time, marking her presence in a vision of sensuality and sexuality. Moving with expressive arm and hand movements, she introduces the first colour of the evening – a red dress to die for. Now we are well and truly off on our journey into the sumptuous heart of flamenco as the corps de ballet, guitarists, percussionists and singers, enter.

A change to a lighter mood, and four dances depict everyday life in the seaport of Cadiz. Purples in lighting and costume abound as the quintessentially feminine, coquettish and playful guajira – with its links to Cuba – is danced by the five female dancers with fans; then a spirited fandango with twirling, circling shawls but, before that, a zapateado by the bailaores, led by guest dancer and real life husband of Baras – Jose Serrano – making his first appearance in the show. Now the backdrop is crazy hot pink.

Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras © Carmen Romero
Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras
© Carmen Romero

With his spray-on trousers that we girls – and some of the boys – love so much, Serrano and the other male dancers thrill the audience with their fantastic precision footwork and palmas (rhythmical hand-clapping). Their unison of movement and rapid-fire footwork is breathtaking. They sweat: the heat of performance racks up.

This section closes with a heartfelt seguirilla – an ancient and expressive song form in flamenco – danced by Sara Baras. All-knowing smiles and generosity are extended to her audience, yet she astonishes us with her eloquent footwork. 

We are now about halfway through the two-hour performance and the tour of differing song forms continues with a duet by Baras and Serrano, a light-hearted malagueña and a solo farruca by the spectacular Serrano. An essentially strong and masculine dance, when performed by women, they usually wear trousers and dance in male fashion with no filigree wrist, hand or hip movements.

Dance after virtuosic dance is at one point interspersed by two percussionists sitting downstage and playing cajons (box drums). The spotlight reveals their skill in the rhythmically contrasting sounds they produce from this simple instrument. This interlude is a break from the intensity of the dancing for both audience and dancers. The show closes with Baras in a beautiful alegrias – a dance that is about happiness and good times – and then the entire company dances a high energy, boisterous bulerias.

Sara Baras © Carmen Romero
Sara Baras
© Carmen Romero

Extra poignancy was added to Saturday’s performance by the announcement that it is dedicated to the memory of Paco de Lucia – the charismatic flamenco guitar legend who passed away on Wednesday 26th February – news that has hit flamenco communities across the world very hard. 

The closing scene replicates the Monumento de las Cortes in Cadiz, with two dancers at extreme ends of the stage holding aloft statuettes representing hope and freedom, and Baras as the centrepiece holding a sword, just like the centrepiece statue of the monument represents Spain. This is an authentic touch from Baras adding gravitas; a tribute to Spain and her roots. Maybe in this gesture she is sending to her fellow country folk a message of hope in the face of difficulties in more current times.

A performer of great magneticsm, Baras stays true to her flamenco roots by combining unerring flamenco technique with drama, while bringing fresh approaches to the genre. Flamenco aficionado, newcomer, dance lover, Spanish national, La Pepa reaches out to all.

Don’t worry if your knowledge of Spanish history is not up to scratch. This production is a wonderful tour around the contrasting song forms and dances in flamenco, the differing moods and scenes acting as a vehicle for singers, musicians and dancers in elevated mastery of their art.