Magazine article The Spectator

Spanish Fire

Magazine article The Spectator

Spanish Fire

Article excerpt

The fiery, passionate nature of Spanish folklore dancing has always attracted theatre people. Still, the stage transposition of that dance form - it was originally intended for locations other than theatres - has often proved problematic. Most choreographers who try to reproduce those sensual movements in their work have come up either with hybrid combinations of techniques or with an arbitrary subjugation of the folklore components to the rigid conventions of the ballet idiom. Even those famous Spanish dancers who opted for a stage career have seldom been able to recreate the intoxicating aura that folklore dancing has in its original environment. A stage, with all its rules and limitations, can hardly be an appropriate substitute for streets, squares and tavernas, where the audience's participation - less detached and passive than that of patrons sitting in comfortable velvet chairs - determines both the response of the dancers and the patterns of the dance itself.

Among those who have experimented with a possible, satisfactory theatricalisation of Spanish folklore dancing, Antonio Gades is arguably the first who managed to adjust his art to the constraints of a theatre performance, thus demonstrating the dramatic and narrative potential of flamenco. In his Carmen, currently at the Peacock Theatre as part of the Sadler's Wells season, the folklore solutions are masterfully combined and used to suit the development of the action, derived from both Prosper Merimee's novel and George Bizet's opera. Although some alterations to the original dances had to be made - including a particular modernist slant, which constitutes Gades's distinctive signature - the essence of the folklore dancing is fully preserved.

Created in 1983 first as a film - Carmen Story - and then as a theatre piece, Carmen consolidated the collaboration between the famous Spanish dancer/choreographer and producer Carlos Saura. Unlike the film, however, the stage version has not stood the test of time. What may have been considered innovative theatrical solutions fewer than 15 years ago, appear now as trite formulae that detract from a full appreciation of the dancing itself. Apart from a sense of deja vu, the idea of mixing fiction and reality - the action takes place and develops in a dance studio where the company is rehearsing - is also unconvincing, for the boundary between the two is never clearly marked. …

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