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The Flamenco Festival returns to London  

Posted on May 25, 2022

LEAD IMAGE Ana Morales Photo by OSCAR ROMERO

After a three-year hiatus due to you-know-what, London’s Flamenco Festival will soon be back with a bang, bringing some of the art form’s established and emerging stars to headline the festival in a programme that emphasises flamenco’s unique hereditary legacies. For 12 days (June 21 to July 2), Sadler’s Wells will host an exciting portfolio of the best in contemporary flamenco, representing its classical traditions while also pushing boundaries through the diverse developments of nuevo flamenco. 

At the vanguard of this avant garde is the bailaor Manuel Liñan, who has long been admired for challenging gender stereotypes through his proficiency with the colourful costumes traditionally worn by bailaoras, particularly the bata de cola and mantón (respectively, the dresses with long trains and large tasselled shawls). In previous shows, Liñan has exhibited his feminine virtuosity through isolated episodes punctuating his masterful command of the male repertoire, dominated by rigid upper bodies, bent legs and fast zapateado (the rhythmic drumming of the feet). However, in İViva! – which premiered in Madrid in 2019 and will open the festival on June 21 – his all-male ensemble challenges flamenco tradition by building upon Liñan’s innovation and introducing another six men to perform traditional alegrías, tàrantos, bulerías and escuelar bolera in the manner of, and dressed as, bailaoras.     

Photographs: iViva!, photographed by Marcos G Punto.

Liñan is an openly gay artist now headlining a traditionally macho profession, and İViva! is his bold manifesto to open up flamenco to a new and inclusive age of enlightened diversity. He will return to direct two former Ballet Nacional de España dancers, Daniel Ramos and Victor Martín, in Boreal, which will be shown in the Lilian Baylis Studio on June 23 and also promises the expectation of fans, shawls and castañets.  

Gender equality will be balanced on June 24 and 25 with an all-female cast performing Mujeres de CAL y CANTE led by Compañia Maria del Mar Moreno. The performance will feature Fuensanta “La Moneta” and Maria del Mar Moreno herself, alongside Pastora Galván (sister of Israel, and daughter of José). These dancers will be supported by the deep expressive vocals of Juana la del Pipa, the legendary gypsy cantaora, now aged 74.  Flamenco is also in Pipa’s genes, being the daughter of the legendary bailaora Tía Juana la del Pipa. Her flamenco name, derived from a childhood activity of selling sunflower seeds (pipas), has been passed from mother to daughter.  

Ana Morales is another artist whose work blends traditional and new flamenco. Born in Barcelona in 1982, Morales brings her autobiographical show, Without Permission, Songs for Silence, to Sadler’s Wells for one night only on June 23. Mixing styles and flamenco forms, Morales’ show is influenced by memories of her Andalusian-born father and his connection to the art of flamenco.  

Another Catalan superstar, born in Barcelona in 1985, is Jesús Carmona who will return to the Festival on June 28 and 29 with The Jump, following his sell-out show in 2019. Carmona is another former principal with Ballet Nacional de España and is skilful across multiple dance genres from ballet through tap to the courtly dances of the 17th and 18th centuries. In The Jump he will push the envelope of flamenco by crossing these genres to explore multi-faceted aspects of male virtuosity.  

Photographs: Jesús Carmona’s The Jump, photographed by Luka Radikovic and Tomas Muruaga.

In addition to these great dancers, the Flamenco Festival will also present one-night-only concerts by cantaora Estrella Morente (on June 26), in which her emotional voice will cover a specially chosen collection of songs remembered from her childhood. These explore the depths of love and loss, and will be supported by the singing of her brother, Enrique “Kiki” Morente Carbonell. On June 30, the outstanding nuevo flamenco guitarist Tomatito, now 63, will be supported in concert by an ensemble of outstanding musicians and an as yet unnamed dancer. This five-time Grammy Award-winner and former musical partner to the legendary cantaor, Camarón de la Isla, is famous for incorporating jazz into his often-improvised flamenco toque. 

The Lilian Baylis Studio will also be busy throughout the festival. In addition to Liñan’s Boreal, El Yiyo y su Troupe will bring new sounds and expressions, including the influence of the late Michael Jackson, to a self-titled show on July 1. Fast-rising bailaora, Paula Comitre, will develop a concluding performance from her week-long artistic residency, also on July 1. Finally, the festival will conclude on July 2 with a dance and music party entitled Flamenco is not a crime, hosted by DJs Pedro and Benito Jimenez.   

Sadler’s Wells again enjoys support in hosting the festival from the intimate surroundings of Southwark’s Cervantes Theatre, which will show three performances on successive nights from June 23 to 25, beginning with Madrileño guitarist Yerai Cortés. He will be followed by young nuevo flamenco cantaora Ángeles Toledano (aged 27), and then the musical ensemble Pasion del Sur (Southern Passion), comprising cellist Irene Ortega and her brother, guitarist José Ortega. 

A flamenco superstar will bring the Sadler’s Wells main stage performances to a close on July 1 and 2 with Una Oda al tiempo (An Ode to Time) by Compañia María Pagés, an ensemble of 16 led by Pagés herself. The preparations for this innovative show formed the backdrop of the BBC4 Danceworks documentary, shown in May 2021. Pagés – amazingly, now 58 – has brought her own innovative aesthetic to bear on flamenco traditions and her shows are developed in association with her husband, El Arbi El Harti, who has both co-directed and provided dramaturgy and text for Una Oda al tiempo. “Everyone knows that the genius of dance lives in María Pagés”, wrote the Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese author José Saramago. “When she dances,” he continued, “she moves everything around her, and after her performance neither Heaven nor Earth remains the same.”     

Pagés is the last of many great performers who will grace the 2022 Flamenco Festival, bringing the curtain down on a fascinating programme that will present the widest spectrum of the art with diverse performances that both emphasise the deep hereditary roots of flamenco and push its boundaries into innovative and exciting territories.    

Main photograph: Ana Morales, photographed by Oscar Romero.

Graham Watts writes for magazines, websites, theatres and festivals across Europe, and in Japan, Australia and the USA. He is chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and of the National Dance Awards; a mentor of aspiring dance writers through the Resolution Review programme; and has lectured at The Place and the Royal Academy of Dance. His book, ‘Agony & Ecstasy’, written with Daria Klimentová, was published in 2013. Graham is a Commonwealth fencing medallist; was captain of the GB sabre team at the Barcelona Olympics; and fencing team leader at the Olympic Games of Athens and Beijing. He was appointed OBE, in 2008.

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