Women continue to dominate this year’s Flamenco Festival with three bailaoras and two cantaoras combining in this 90-minute show to provide a series of vignettes that illustrated the work of Julio Romero de Torres (both the Painter and the J.R.T. of the title). Torres (1874-1930) was a Spanish symbolist painter, not well-known in the UK, who lived and worked for long periods in the city of Córdoba.  

The intention of interpreting painting through flamenco was writ large from the start with a flickering slide show of Torres’ art, almost exclusively focused on the female form, with intimate, close-up details (fleetingly shown) of paintings such as Venus of Poetry and La Musa Gitana. Having provided the flavour of the work to come, this fast-moving slew of imagery soon disintegrated in a depiction of the heat of melting film.

So far as I recall – the film images moved so fast it was difficult to register them – none of Torres’ art featured therein was related to flamenco; most often – as in Venus of Poetry – being naked women posed with clothed men. Despite his Andalusian heritage, I was not aware of Torres as a painter especially associated with flamenco, nor of any of his paintings with flamenco as a subject and this opening fusillade of images left me none the wiser in this regard. Subsequently, I have discovered his beautiful flamenco paintings (such as Alegrías and Mi espacio flamenco) but the essential connection upon which this work relied – that of painter and flamenco – was never sufficiently articulated, in the production itself,  through any obvious connection with Torres’ art, and this was a pity.

It may be that the essential issues were lost in translation, or rather, in no attempt at translation whatsoever since – despite the anglicised title - this was purely a Spanish-language show and I suspect that non-Spanish speakers were somewhat alienated from the subject matter and its presentation. Another element that didn’t work well for me was the music. Again, it may well have been relevant to the subject – for all I know – but, at times, it was a weirdly eclectic combination of sounds with a saxophone (and other wind instruments?) joining the traditional triumvirate of flamenco song, guitar and percussion.  

I also suspect that there was a great deal of relevant symbolism that I missed. One small personal success (I hope) came in the Suite Semana Santa about the Holy Week of Easter, which seemed to include a reference to the processional pacing of the catholic fraternity (for it is, so far as I know, a men-only club) of the cofradias. At the other end of the spectrum, there was also – later – a segment apparently set within a bordello. From Neruda to Torres, Catholicism and sex are often closely connected in the work of Hispanic artists, poets and writers.

The three dancers – sisters, Úrsula and Tamara López and Leonor Leal – were excellent, whether dancing in unison or solo. It was hard to tell the siblings apart, but I’m going to guess that it was Úrsula that danced in a beautiful black dress with inner white frills, under lamplight, in the sensual Las Alegrías e Córdoba, which was the show’s standout dance highlight; and Leonor Leal was a new “find”, as a flamenco bailaora with a balletic influence.  

There was a great deal of expressive tenderness in their dance, which exuded charisma throughout, well supported by the two cantaoras (Gema Caballero and Elena Morales). I suspect that the narrative and thematic references would have had much greater significance to a Spanish audience, especially one well-acquainted with the paintings of Torres (and I am very glad to have had this introduction to his work). But, for me, it was a largely inaccessible work, punctuated by some outstanding moments of dance.