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Joaquín Cortés in Unleashed at The Roundhouse

Posted on February 5, 2009

It was hard to convince oneself that Unleashed, the new show by Spanish dance heartthrob and media celebrity Joaquín Cortés, was a dance recital rather than a pop concert. Held for just two nights at Camden’s The Roundhouse (not a particularly good venue for dance on this viewing), the arena area around the centrally placed stage platform was packed with standing figures supping pints or attempting to capture the performance on their mobile phones. The atmosphere was hot, sweaty, noisy, and heavy with anticipation whilst an onstage flamenco band wailed, stamped and clapped their way through a musical introduction.

To cheers, Cortés finally appeared in a blaze of light. Wearing a long, Matrix-like coat over black trousers and a bare chest, he stretched his arms out as if  crucified. The man is handsome and taller than I expected, but his looks and physique have matured since he first came to international prominence in Pedro Almodóvar’s film The Flower of my Secret. That Cortés has the charismatic appeal of a movie star cannot be denied, but his qualities as a dancer are more questionable. He received a fair degree of adulation from the spectators, to which he reciprocated by waving back to them and blowing kisses. In his opening solo, Cortés played around with the long tails of his coat whilst tossing his hair and walking slowly about the stage like a model on a catwalk. Here, a carefully groomed image was all. Occasionally, Cortés performed little flurries of stamps and gave the crowd flashes of his torso. The audience screamed its appreciation. The night before, there were, apparently, calls of “get your shirt off”.

After a quick costume change (where a shirt went on, not off), Cortés returned to the stage to perform several short solos in between lengthy interludes performed by the excellent musicians. The dances had little variety, but what Unleashed revealed most was the fact that as a flamenco dancer, Cortés is lightweight. His body stance looks slack and soft, and there was little sense of the power, excitement and intensity of true flamenco despite the florid and feminine use of his arms.

The choreography Cortés performed incorporated as much ballet as flamenco – pirouettes were interspersed between the zapateados – but rather than seeing a dancer “unleashed”, the whole experience was rather tame. Cortés’ show biz approach to Spanish dance kept me expecting him to break into one of John Travolta’s familiar and much parodied routines from Saturday Night Fever, and I found watching the performance from a seat in the balcony a rather detached experience – almost akin to seeing Unleashed on television. I had serious doubts as to whether the majority of the audience in the arena below could actually see him dance at all, but perhaps that wasn’t the reason why they were there. Sometimes just being in the presence of a “star” makes up for any paucity of material, and the whoops and wolf-whistles at the end suggested an audience that had found pleasure and enjoyment.

Jonathan Gray is editor of Dancing Times. He studied at The Royal Ballet School, Leicester Polytechnic, and Wimbledon School of Art where he graduated with a BA Hons in Theatre Design. For 16 years he was a member of the curatorial department of the Theatre Museum, London, assisting on a number of dance-related exhibitions, and helping with the recreation of original designs for a number of The Royal Ballet’s productions including Danses concertantes, Daphnis and Chloë, and The Sleeping Beauty. He has also contributed to the Financial Times, written programme articles for The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, and is co-author of the book Unleashing Britain: Theatre gets real 1955-64, published in 2005.

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