For those who like their flamenco red in tooth and claw, Cadiz-born star Sara Baras’s shows can seem rather too polished. But there’s something deeply heartfelt about Voces, Suite Flamenca, her homage to the six flamenco maestros who have most deeply influenced her. It follows the classic flamenco show format – a series of ensemble, duet and solo dances with traditional accompaniment – but when Baras pauses, eyes closed, before unleashing one of her famous barrages of rapid-fire steps, you can feel her passion for the dancers, musicians and singers she is paying tribute to.
Their rather rough-and-ready portraits are arrayed across the back of the stage – Carmen Amaya, Paco de Lucía, Camarónde la Isla, Antonio Gades, Enrique Morente and Moraito – and recordings of their voices (hence the title Voces) stud the show. They speak about love and sorrow always being intertwined, about the pleasure of pain, about tasting blood in your mouth when you sing flamenco. All of which gut-wrenching imagery doesn’t entirely find reflection in such a carefully choreographed performance.
Nonetheless, Baras’s extraordinarily powerful precision – in her perfectly placed arms; her astonishing zapateo, so fast, at times, that she seems to levitate – and her complete immersion in flamenco’s complex rhythms are beguiling. Her metronomic heel tapping is at times almost like an aural manifestation of Baras thinking, particularly in her intimate, showstopping solo, which she performs in black trousers and loose top, in front of a wall of mirrors.
Baras’s husband Jose Serrano is a warm, generous partner for her duets, and demonstrates a toreador bravado in his final solo. Her six company dancers acquit themselves well when they have the chance – although a rather strange, Carmen-referencing interlude piece, with tango-like bursts of overt sexuality, does no one any favours. Sadler’s Wells’s over-enthusiastic amplification means the singers and musicians’ contributions are sometimes overwhelming – the tinaja, a ceramic water jug, used in one section ends up producing a bass vibration that wouldn’t be out of place at a dubstep party – but the honeyed anguish in cantaor Israel Fernandez’s voice still shines through.
A final, joyous solo, full of whipping, tilted turns, sees Baras don a bullfighter’s jacket in a reverential nod to Carmen Amaya. There’s nothing as groundbreaking as Amaya’s work on show here, but that’s not the intention. This is a celebration of flamenco’s proud heritage – and Baras’s fierce commitment to her art form is an uplifting experience.