Since he first formed his own company in 1992, Joaqun Corts has become a superstar of flamenco dance. His combination of virtuosic technique, athleticism, stamina and passionate sensuality has enraptured audiences around the world, while his affairs with the likes of Naomi Campbell and Mira Sorvino have added to his sex appeal. There’s no question that this Cordoba-born artist with Gypsy blood in his veins is one of Spain’s hottest exports.
A classically trained dancer who became a principal soloist with Spanish National Ballet, Corts has never been a purely flamenco dancer, pioneering a fusion of flamenco, classical ballet and contemporary dance. His most successful show was probably Pasin Gitana (‘Gypsy Passion’), created in 1995, while recently Corts now 38 has concentrated more on choreography than dancing. However, now he is back performing a world tour of a revamped version of his 2005 show Mi Soledad (‘My Solitude’). Can he still hack it on stage?
The answer is yes, definitely, but it takes a hell of a long time for him to get going. The first half of the evening proves very frustrating. Starting 15 minutes late, the performance lasts just 30 minutes with little real dancing from Corts before the interval arrives. After almost 30 minutes’ hiatus, the show resumes in the same lacklustre way for about another half-hour, and it is only in the final 30 minutes that it really comes to life and then it fairly fizzes with energy.
It has to be said that the huge expanse of the Royal Albert Hall is ill-suited to flamenco dance, especially for solo performance (though Corts is accompanied by a large group of miked singers and instrumentalists, who tend to sound overamplified). And from my seat near the back of the arena (where people stand for the Proms) the sightlines were very poor as the seating was not raked, so it was not possible to see Corts’s dazzling footwork without watching one of the two huge screens suspended either side of the stage.
The show slowly builds up atmosphere at the start with a minimalist set bathed in a golden glow and the sound of electronic music and ritual chanting. On a stage criss-crossed with beams of light, Corts lies alone, in a partly unbuttoned white shirt, tight blue trousers and black, heeled boots, while he continually sweeps back his long black hair from over his eyes. This sense of isolation is broken when three black-clad female singers give him comfort, wailing and hand-clapping, and the flamenco band starts playing in the background, encouraging Corts to rise to his feet. More posing than dancing, you might say.
Corts then exits, leaving the musicians in the limelight. An agreeable accordion solo follows and during the course of the show each singer and instrumentalist gets the chance to perform a solo – but this is hardly dramatic stuff. When Corts returns in another Jean Paul Gaultier costume, wearing a hat and carrying a silver-topped cane, he swirls his cloak like a matador’s cape and makes some extraordinarily expressive hand movements, but where is the real dynamism that the audience wants to see?
The feeling that Corts is living off his reputation and that what we are seeing is an overblown and self-indulgent spectacle, rather than genuine flamenco frenzy, persists for a while after the interval, with more of the same rather static presentation. But eventually, with the band now in full percussive flow, Corts shows why he is flamenco’s first man. With a succession of breathtaking moves, in which he uses the whole of his body, from finger-clicking to leg-trembling, the guy struts his stuff. Now emblazoned in red light Corts milks the audience applause by a display of visceral energy yet using incredibly precise choreography, which propels him along the full width of the stage. At long last this venerable South Kensington venue is ignited by true Andalucian passion.