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Stamping on Flamenco: Barbara Newman sees Rocío Molina

Posted on October 19, 2017

The most interesting thing about Rocío Molina is her dancing. You might expect that from any attraction in London’s Dance Umbrella, but Molina has decided to upend traditional flamenco and give it a new slant, the sort of decision that usually requires a lot of explaining and extensive programme notes.

Unlike many contemporary choreographers, however, she lets her compact body do all the talking. So even if we don’t know her underlying purpose or can’t discern the significant thread that connects the discrete numbers in her show, she gives us plenty to think about and enjoy.

In Fallen from Heaven (Caída del Cielo), presented at the Barbican Theatre for three nights, four musicians supported and sometimes surrounded her, drumming, singing, clapping, helping her through costume changes and keeping their eyes peeled for prearranged cues in their improvised sets. You quickly became aware of how desperately she needed them, not only for accompaniment but also to entertain us – for far too long – between her remarkable solos.

The show ran 90 minutes without a break. For roughly half that time, Molina danced as if reinventing herself in each number, as a woman, a man, a mysterious figurehead, a flower child. She began in a froth of pure white ruffles, gliding slowly across a pure white floor cloth like a stately memory of flamenco. You recognised the familiar shapes in her nobly arched back and curved arms, but her flicking, kicking bare feet made no sound.

Abandoning the dress and the contemplative manner, for the next solo she acquired kneepads, a bolero jacket that would suit a matador’s suit of lights, and an air of ferocious aggression. Delicate as woodpeckers initially, her heelwork and snapping fingers gathered speed like an avalanche, pinning our attention to the iron filigree of their staccato rhythms and holding us in suspense each time she stopped short, often balanced precariously on one leg.

A woman doesn’t often swagger across a stage on her knees like a seductive gaucho on the prowl, strumming a guitar with each lunging step. And a woman doesn’t often shed her personality, step into a long skirt dripping with wet paint, and drag it behind her in twisting patterns; we could see them twice at once, from the auditorium and from the overhead camera mapping her progress.

Calling her work “a kind of carnal, poetic dramaturgy,” Molina filled her performance with intriguing ideas about the confining nature of tradition, the effort of dancing, the unavoidable mess of applying dimension to imagery, and the permeable barrier between gender roles. By the time she and her musicians picked up the tempo and a vivid assortment of patterned shirts to turn the tables yet again, she was belabouring her points unnecessarily. She should have quit while she was ahead, leaving us with the 40 blazing minutes of dancing that made a satisfying statement on their own.

Pictured: Rocío Molina in Fallen from Heaven. Photograph by djfrat.

Barbara Newman is dance critic for Country Life, a frequent contributor to numerous periodicals and reference works, and the author of a number of books about ballet which include a volume of interviews, Striking a Balance; a children’s book, The Illustrated Book of Ballet Stories; and Grace Under Pressure.

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