mon 15/07/2024

La Pepa, Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras, Sadler's Wells | reviews, news & interviews

La Pepa, Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras, Sadler's Wells

La Pepa, Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras, Sadler's Wells

Flamenco festival's opening number is no history lesson, but the dancing's all right

Sara Baras: hardly the incarnation of Spain and liberty, but a great dancer nonetheless© Santana de Yepes

“Goya!” I scribbled enthusiastically in the first moments of La Pepa. “Dos de Mayo!

Art as witness to history!” Despite the clichéd use of flickering strobes and a stock “chaotic” soundtrack of shouts and crashes, this opening scene purporting to represent the Spanish War of Independence (1808-1812, known in Britain as the Peninsular Wars) reminded me of the Spanish painter’s testimonies in oil to the horror and grandeur of that war; as shafts of yellow side-light pierced the blackness, unknown arms were flung up in the pose of the Tres de Mayo's doomed revolutionary before a firing squad.

Sara Baras in La PepaLa Pepa is the nickname for the 1812 Spanish Constitution of Cádiz, which happens to be the hometown of Sara Baras. This show, created for the constitution’s bicentenary, clearly wants to offer us some new kind of knowledge and appreciation of La Pepa - but is it a homage? A history? A ritual reenactment? The Goya moments, the great stone arches of the set, and the historical costumes of the dancers might suggest a piece of impassioned historical storytelling, a Spanish Les Misérables-cum-courtroom drama. But flamenco, a dance form with no real mime or narrative tradition, can’t sustain anything as complex as history.

Baras herself suggests La Pepa is “a feeling, an attitude, a way of being”. Fair enough, but this kind of contention loads her show with the burden of representing (her words again) “the horror of a war, the beauty of the land, the importance to create [sic] an historical constitution in the whole world; the influence, the hope, the happiness, the life and freedom.” Clearly Baras has no doubt she is up to it; a woman of granite-dense stage presence (like her compatriot Eva Yerbabuena), she confidently appears at the end, Statue of Liberty-like, on a pedestal labelled La Pepa (pictured, above right), as if she herself embodies her nation, its history, and the spirit of freedom.

But whether we in the audience can accept that kind of claim depends on whether one accepts flamenco as some kind of embodiment of the Spanish soul. For those who do, the blistering intensity of Baras and her co-performers will justify their grand aspirations. This is no gentle, folksy dance form. The cliché of labelling flamenco "passionate" is trying to get at the fact that a dance requiring so much tension in the body, and transmuting that tension into so much noise, must be feeding off the strong emotions: anger, grief, love. The same emotions form the soundtrack, heard in the mournful wailing of the singers, insistent as a call to prayer, and the blistering cajón duet played by Antonia Suárez and Manuel Muñoz – a high point for me, and one touchingly capped by the performers embracing in self-congratulatory exhaustion.

The corps de ballet in La PepaThe thrill of flamenco is all about percussion: the relentless Gatling-gun barrage of sound from feet stamping so furiously the eye sees only a blur, as well as the drum-cadenza exhilaration of broken, syncopated, and ornamented rhythm. The speed is incredible – a woodpecker going at this rate would fell an oak tree in an hour, while a pianist might manage the same volume of notes, but she has ten fingers; the flamenco artist only four (the front and back of each foot). With virtuosic skill, Baras and her male counterpart José Serrano amply demonstrate the stunning power of this dance form in the hands (and feet) of masters (and they could have done so without mikes on their shoes, an invasive annoyance in an overamplified performance.) 

Their grand solos go on far too long too, in a production which at two hours is already stretching patience. I would have liked to see more of the actually rather good choreography Baras has made for her supporting dancers. In corsets and tiered skirts (the women) and fetching sashed shirts and knee boots (the men), the eager dancers of the corps (pictured above left) have the isn’t-this-jolly smiles of a chorus line, and manage in their synchronicity and uniformity to suggest the weight of a national story, a national tradition. Baras is incredible yes, but why does she get to wear a totally anachronistic 1920s-meets-1990s fringed number while everyone else is in period costume? It jars, and more than that, it illustrates what’s not quite right here: though this show features many other performers, and purports to tell a story valid for all Spain, if not all time, it is really all about Sara Baras. For lovers of flamenco and of Sara that might be enough, but if you’re looking for art to tell you about Spanish history, better stick to Goya.

A dance requiring so much tension in the body, and transmuting that tension into so much noise, must be feeding off the strong emotions: anger, grief, love


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Your review is nonsense. you went to watch a dance show called La Pepa but didn't read what it was about? wow...The info was at the Sadler's Wells' page. Hanna, no tienes ni puta idea. Sara y su compañía estuvieron maravillosos.

Esoty de acuerdo con Maria. This person has no idea what they are talking about. It was the best Flameno I have been to in my life and I have seen many a Falmeno. La Pepa es la ostia!!!

This is such a soppy review. My partner and I were there last night and thought the show was utterly amazing. Sara Baras and company held the audience in the palm of their hands. The solos were not too long and in no way stretched patience - quite the opposite, we couldn't get enough. Costumes were varied, some traditional, but the female dancers also wore contemporary later along with Sara Baras and the mix of the two in a show is now perfectly usual in Flamenco. We both thought she shared the stage well and with immense generosity to the other dancers, all of whom were of the highest possible standard. There's a received opinion and snobbery that Sara Baras is not traditional enough, but all dance forms move on (think of ballet) and she has found a way to embrace past and present with her phenomenal talent. The show was met with ten minutes of cheering and a standing ovation.

Were we even watching the same show? I also went last night, and it was IMMENSE. Really, the stage presence that woman possesses is unreal. Similarly to Rosie's comment I could feel the anticipation in the audience waiting for her to dance again! I felt emotional watching her, something I've never felt while watching anyone dance. Sara es preciosa!!

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