Paco Pena: A Compas! To The Rhythm @ Sadler’s Wells, London

Flamenco encompasses so much. Music, dance, costumes, atmosphere. It’s one hell of a seductive package. Which probably explain why Paco Pena’s shows do so well, both in London, and around the world.

A Compas! To The Rhythm returns to Sadler’s Wells after a hugely popular run at the Peacock Theatre last year. The show explores flamenco in all its incarnations, and provides insight into this rich musical form in a far more cohesive fashion than cultural collages like the recent Havana Rakatan did with the music of Cuba.

This sense of purpose is down to Pena’s superb playing. The celebrated guitarist, and his fellow musicians and vocalists, sit on stools at the back of the stage, allowing the dance elements of the show to be fore-grounded. This is a successful set-up, allowing the audience to better appreciate some truly beautiful dancing. Flamenco done well, as it is here, is exciting, electric stuff, all sensual writhing and snaking arms, accompanied by some incredibly intricate footwork.

There were three dancers in all, each with a distinctive style and manner. The two male dancers had both appeared in the show’s previous London run, but the female dancer, the enviably graceful Charo Espino, had not; though this distinction hardly mattered they were all superb in their way, hypnotic to watch, whether dueting or performing solo.

Of the two men, Angel Muoz was more controlled, more precise, whereas Ramn Martnez was a looser performer, with a greater sense of humour in his moves, and a more exaggerated sense of the sexual. His dancing was often aggressively masculine, though not in an off-putting way. Together the three dancers explored flamenco in all its forms, their moves highlighted by shafts and squares of light on a stage that was otherwise bare save for some abstract projections on the back wall.

All this was underscored by Pea’s sublime guitar playing, so technically accomplished that you almost don’t notice its intricacy; his music feels so necessary, so tied in with the other elements of the show – the dancing and the distinctive vocals that was at times difficult to appreciate the sheer level of skill involved, a fact enhanced by the man’s determinedly low-key stage presence. Even when he plays unaccompanied by the other musicians, he remains in his seated position at the back of the stage, head bowed.

This is a hugely enjoyable show, one that drew one of the most energetic and vocal responses I’ve ever seen at Sadler’s Wells from the audience lots of whooping and stamping of feet, and an atmosphere of good feeling that spilled out of the theatre and into the streets of Islington as people headed home.

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