Flamenco Fire’s Viva Sevilla – The Golden Age of Flamenco
QPAC & Red Chair
January 28 – February 6 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Flamenco Fire is our only national Flamenco company, celebrating seventeen years in 2016. We love seeing them every year at Woodford Folk Festival, where the crowd goes crazy for the Spanish rhythms and passionate storytelling.
At first this production feels as if we’ve been invited to the fantastic late-night backyard party in Baz Luhrman’s Strictly Ballroom (it didn’t translate to the stage with quite the same ferocious passion and excitement, did it?). We’re transported to nowhere in particular in 19th century Spain seen through a contemporary Australian lens. The design is sparse and slickly metallic, with just a black-covered chair for each musician and a hat stand of flowers and troublesome fringed (guaranteed-to-get-caught-every-time) scarves for each dancer. We’re welcomed to an era of brash confidence and newly public flamboyant flamenco dance (1850 – 1920), which became known as the Golden Age of Flamenco.
Many challenges that exist in Australian society today were present in 19th century Spain. The concepts of nationhood, sovereign territory, the balancing of political and religious powers, cultural tolerance, the influences and difficulties in balancing the growth and decline of industries, the impact of migration on farming, mining and urban communities. Using the aesthetic of traditional flamenco combined with contemporary dance choreography, original composition and supporting visual and staging design, Viva Sevilla examines these cultural challenges within the Spanish historical cultural context and connects them to the contemporary Australian experience.
Without the explicit historical or political context cited in promotional materials and our gorgeous glossy program, we’re very simply presented with a series of traditional Spanish dances, performed superbly by Francesca Grima and Simone Pope. Grima, all at once stern, passionate and mischievous, comes direct from Spain, along with vocalist Olayo Jimena and sensational, sexy percussionist Andrej Vujicic. They are joined on stage by Australian musicians Andrew Veivers, Kieran Ray, Shenton Gregory and singer, Clara Domingo. The newest member of the group, Domingo sings best during the curtain call and less confidently before that. She’s lovely on stage and her full voice is beautiful, and I wish we’d heard more of it. Instead, much of her vocal work is quiet, gentle, suiting the lilting tones of the guitars but barely audible at times, lost in the music and beneath the commanding voice of Jimena. An extraordinary storyteller, on opening night Jimena elicits much laughter with his exaggerated gestures and facial expressions conveying his adoration and then angst at the hands of the women in his life-on-stage. The tales are long with many verses and others obviously enjoy his indulgent storytelling style, clapping and cheering loudly at the end of each verse. It’s wonderful drama!
Vujicic provides additional traditional vocal support and percussion throughout, and one of the evening’s highlights breathes vivid life into a lagging Act 1 when he sits with Grima to perform an exhilarating body percussion piece (Ritmos Flamencos). Later, he forms a trio with Grima and Pope to perform a tightly choreographed wooden walking stick number (Bastones Flemencos). Another highlight of the night is Veivers, his classical guitar solos (Maestro Patane & Treinta) demonstrating his mastery and sensitivity in this style. As a director, it appears as though Veivers has his focus squarely on the composition of his original pieces and on his performance, with little sense of storytelling outside of the music and dance. And this is fine – it’s a sell-out show, sensational in its separate elements and it can be argued that the history and evolution of the dance styles are revealed through the dance itself – but smoother transitions and a semblance of story to link each dance would give non-Spanish speakers another hook into the performance.
If you appreciate authentic Flamenco with its palmas, swirling skirts and Spanish song, you’ll love the music and dance and fiery energy of Flamenco Fire’s Viva Sevilla
Tour details here
Workshop details here