The curtain is already up as we enter the auditorium at Sadler’s Wells for Nómada . There is a line of ten chairs on a bare, black stage, faintly illuminated, with a solitary additional chair in front. When the black-clad dancers finally emerge out of the gloom it looks like we are in for a rather austere experience. And yes, much of the evening is sombre, fierce and unsmiling. Chairs are slowly, irritatingly dragged across the stage and then back again. It is relentlessly loud, with the huge stacks of speakers by each side of the stage providing almost painful levels of amplification, particularly for the singers. But it also has the virtues of its austerity in its unbroken concentration and unremitting rigour, with a pugnacious and committed performance by Liñán that absolutely commands attention and finally breaks into flashes of humour.
Liñán uses two guitarists and three male singers to accompany his dancers. There are three women and two men as well as his indomitable self. It’s good to see women on stage with womanly bodies, women who actually have hips and know what to do with them. There are nine different numbers, some for the entire company and some solos for the man himself. The performance runs for eighty minutes without a break, a real feat of stamina for Liñán. Nómada is his fourth work. It attracted a full house and an eclectic audience, rather oddly including some young children as part of family groups.
For a solo he is surrounded by the guitarists and singers in a small circle, but the confinement seems to drive him on. It is fiercely confrontational. He dances only inches away from each singer or musician in turn, responding as if to some challenge or insult. His feet pound the floor right by their feet, he spins and spins, stopping just an inch or two before their face, staring them down, as if we could slide into violence at any second. If only Sadler’s would provide a translation of the words of the songs the experience would be richer. At the conclusion Liñán stalks over to the edge of the stage and looks at the front row of the stalls as if to challenge all comers to take him on.
It’s not just about speed and macho display, fortunately. Some interesting moments come in a brief section for the women where their arms are almost in slow motion. It’s an opportunity to admire every detail of the slow twining of the wrists, and the careful placement of the fingers. There’s also a quieter passage when Liñán is facing off against one of the guitarists alone on stage when the amplification for once doesn’t deafen us but allows us to hear the tiniest and most delicate fluttering beats from his feet before the volume and force ramp up.
The women start out in rather chic short black dresses which allow us to see their feet. As the work progresses they add welcome touches of colour in terms of additional skirts before they finally move on to traditional, colourful dresses with huge trains and shawls.
For the final number Liñán himself is unexpectedly revealed in a long-trained skirt, wielding a shawl the size of a bedspread. The whole company are now on stage singing and smiling as if everyone is finally allowing themselves to have a good time. Liñán slices his giant shawl through the air with a big grin. The packed house gave him a standing ovation.