Theatre

Sara Baras @ Royal Albert Hall, London



This compilation show represents the essence of superstar Spanish flamenco dancer Sara Baras. Featuring highlights from her previous nine shows since she formed her company in 1998, it feels like a swansong before possible retirement from dancing later this year at the age of 38.

Mixing traditional and modern flamenco, Baras is not only the leading dancer and choreographer of this show but has also directed it and designed the stage, lighting and costumes.
Performing excerpts from themed shows does not always work well as the narrative context is missing and the more successful moments here are when one can appreciate the pure flamenco dance. The result is a slickly produced piece of entertainment which is easy on the eye but only fitfully stirs the pulse with real Andalusian passion.

The show starts slowly with a colourful tableau of the company with props backed by recorded music but then flickers into life when the excellent eight-strong band of musicians, featuring singers, guitarists, violinist and percussionist, emerge from the darkness. After some pretty ensemble dancing from five women and five men, and more instrumental music, we finally get to see Baras dance in a tango-influenced duet with guest performer (and real-life partner) Jos Serrano from her Carmen show. Full of erotic tension with an edge of danger, this expertly executed male/female confrontation turns on the heat.

In an alegra taken from Baras biggest hit Flavours, Serrano performs a wonderful solo (choreographed by himself), in which he struts his stuff around a hat he has tossed on the floor, every sinew of his body shuddering with staccato movements in a virtuoso display of machismo. In a farruca from Baras first show Sensations, Baras begins by dancing with two other female performers then by herself gives a masterclass of dazzling footwork and expressive hand movements in tightly controlled kinetic motion.

After the interval, we see the climactic scene from Joan the Mad in which the king of Castile Serrano dies, leaving his pregnant wife Baras to mourn, but what gives this scene its power is not the dancing but the extraordinary guttural singing of Saray Muoz Barrull, with her wails emoting inconsolable grief. The best is saved to last with Baras finally letting rip in an explosive extended alegra from Cadiz the Island. Wearing a stunning, tight-fitting backless scarlet dress whose flounces she swirls around her, she shows off her technical skills of forward propulsion and perfect balance with increasingly passionate intensity, wowing the audience.

Its a great finish to a show that reveals the variety of flamenco even if its essential energy is sometimes dissipated. The production is impressive visually, with some gorgeous costumes and imaginative lighting effects making a big impact (not to mention the amplified stage which makes the toe and heel percussive sounds go off like gun shots), though it will seem too glitzy and overblown for purists. Of course the ideal place to watch flamenco performed would be in some seedy Seville nightclub rather than a sadly half-empty Royal Albert Hall, but it is well worth seeing the legendary Baras anywhere while you still can.



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