Women dancers have taken delight in defying convention at this year’s Sadler’s Wells flamenco festival. The Cordoban star Olga Pericet was among them – her poetically titled show revealed, wonderfully, a personality too big for flamenco to hold. Pericet, who last appeared at the festival with Marco Flores, arrived on stage like a tiny dynamo, net skirts and castanets flying, chattering away to the audience and to herself. To a tumultuous drum roll she ditched the skirts and, somewhat surreally, was pelted with shoes. With a pair on her feet and a pair on her hands, she marked the compass with both. She dribbled a stray shoe like a football, used another as a mobile phone, used a pair as guns for a Wild West shoot-out. Then stuffing every pair into her waistband and down her top, she started a burlesque gyrating (“Look at me, I very sexy”).
Back in her nets and castanets, she started up a whirl of folk dancing that got faster and faster until she looked like a malfunctioning doll – then slumped to the floor. Our expectations thus thoroughly shattered, Pericet was laid out on a taverna-style table as her companions assembled; the singers Jeromo Segura and Miguel Lavi, the guitarists Antonia Jimenez and Jose Almarcha, and her special collaborator Jesus Fernandez, whose slicing precision and swaggering machismo made a compelling combination.
Pericet, once reanimated and up off the table, made sure it was clear that she was the one in control, however – Fernandez was soon reduced to dog-like obedience, following her snapping fingers. Their extended duet moved through surprising physicality – she jumping on his back, he slinging her over his shoulder – and humour, as Pericet, for instance, impersonated a chicken, or the pair conducted a conversation through their heated tapeo.
Petite and compact, with an explosive power and a graceful physical eloquence, Pericet was clearly setting out to present her art form on her own terms; she had constructed her show almost as a playground, allowing beauty and ugliness, silliness and seriousness all at the same time. Donning full red bata de cola, she took us from joyously upbeat feria-style alegrias, with the singers using the table as a cajon, to a mournful, sinuous duet between Pericet and her guitarist. And when unleashing her pure flamenco skill, she danced with authority and vivacity, clean lines and driving passion.
Finally, to the accompaniment of the guitarist Antonia Jimenez – who stopped playing, rather charmingly, to reapply her lipstick – Pericet appeared bare-chested, sitting on a chair, before covering herself with black net skirts as though dressed in widow’s weeds, and finally, with Jimenez, raising a toast to the audience. Quirky, funny, warm and mischievous, Pericet presented a very 21st-century portrait of what flamenco can express.