There may have been an intelligent premise to this show but, if there was, it remained inaccessible to me. Albert Quesada – a Spanish dancer and choreographer, trained in philosophy, multimedia engineering and contemporary dance – and Zoltán Vakulya – a Belgium-based, Hungarian-born dancer and choreographer – have teamed up to deconstruct flamenco. It is more like a demolition… of the wrong building.
The programme notes start with a clear statement of intent, a health warning that declares starkly that ‘this is not a flamenco piece’. But, the originators then go on to say that they use their bodies to ask, ‘what is flamenco?’ That may be their intent but it is so cloaked in discord and incongruity that it is a muffled inquiry without any clear answer in this mercifully brief fifty-minute affair. And, if they use their bodies they do not use their feet (zapateado being key to a bailaor’s artistry). ‘Where is the flamenco?’ might have been a more appropriate question.
Let’s begin with the obvious links. The two men (why just men when so much about flamenco is woman?) perform on a square, surrounded on three sides by the audience, which suggests some semblance of the intimacy of a tablao. The performance utilises snatches of familiar music (the programme credits music – or should it be performances – by Miguel Poveda and the late Camarón de la Isla, two extraordinary flamenco singers). These extracts – plus another from the long-departed cantaor, Manolo Caracol – were summonsed by the performers from an iPad, set up like a musical instrument on a stand, stationed by their two chairs at one side of the performance rectangle. To be frank, the recorded music was by some margin the evening’s silver lining. The two men contorted and swivelled with vaguely identifiable movements, especially spinning in spiralling pirouettes like coils of wire unwinding roughly; and Quesada produced some percussive rhythms by vigorously slapping Vakulya’s back. One supposes that it may have been an attempt to assimilate the pain of flamenco associated with the essence of palmas?
The costumes were also a challenge, suggesting a kind of post-modern, queer take on flamenco (or, maybe, even The Emperor’s New Clothes). Valkulya is bare-chested and wears high-waisted, short-legged white trousers, which look just like the beginners’ breeches worn in fencing lessons; and Quesada is dressed in a red jacket, with its obvious bullfighting synergy, but matched with tight, black shorts and what appears to be ragged lace drifting down one leg under the close-fitting hem.
Periodically, their dance is interrupted and they rush back – like a manic game of musical chairs – to grab their seats by the iPad. There is an often a pleasing, underlying notion of playfulness to the work with flamenco-like body swirls being matched alongside hopping and general devil-may-care cavorting.
The title suggests a fundamental emphasis on unravelling the rhythmic patterns of flamenco and I tried to concentrate on the time signatures of each firework flash of performance but it was not easily assessable and thus inaccessible. There was one sequence, towards the end, where both men danced a moving duet, to beautiful guitar accompaniment, that seemed to have massive potential and suddenly their collaborative artistry became temporarily arresting but, for me at least, it was all too little and too late.
Beyond this I was nonplussed. I’ve never seen a flamenco dancer ask for a pause in the middle of a routine and run offstage with his partner for an impromptu break: was it planned; for comfort or water? Nothing, anywhere in the performance seemed remotely like the intensity of rhythmic improvisation that comes in the deeply committed duende of flamenco. To deconstruct something with vitality and meaning requires virtuoso skill in the art that is being taken apart and therein lies the rub. I take nothing away from these guys’ dynamism and movement quality, but I struggled to make connections to flamenco, even in any deconstructed form and, without that clarity, there seemed little point.
There is no doubting the physical intensity and exhausting effort of these two dancers, but it seemed to me to be meaningless abstract contemporary dance with the merest hint of a flamenco flavour. For all their hard work, I neither enjoyed the performance, nor felt remotely challenged by what appeared to be an exercise in self-indulgence. It may have worked for others (and I sincerely hope it did) but not for me.