mon 22/04/2024

FLA CO MEN, Israel Galván, Sadler's Wells | reviews, news & interviews

FLA.CO.MEN, Israel Galván, Sadler's Wells

FLA.CO.MEN, Israel Galván, Sadler's Wells

Maverick dancer opens annual flamenco festival with a playful jam-session of a show

These boots are made for dancing - and breaking the rules. Israel Galván in FLA.CO.MEN© Hugo Gumiel

Before this Sadler's Wells Flamenco Festival-opening performance of Israel Galván's show FLA.CO.MEN, my guest wanted to know what the show would be like.

And if I struggled lamely for words in response, it wasn't because I thought it would be bad  au contraire  but because Galván tends to defy both prediction and description.

The 90 minutes that followed proved that any prophecy would indeed have been a waste of breath. He smashes a ceramic flamenco boot (after playing it like a flute). He pretends to read his dance steps off a score on a music stand, while wearing a chef's apron. He hits a bass drum with his head. He gets off the stage and spends five minutes dancing in the stalls in a blackout. He pulls up his shirt and plays percussion on his belly. He pins sheets of paper to his clothes. There is contemporary flamenco  the kind of thing we will see later in the festival from Manuel Liñán  and then there is what Galván does in a show like this: Tanztheater in heeled boots; a dance concept album; performing art as performance art.

Israel Galván in FLA.CO.MENIt's a far cry from his last show, Lo Real, which turned a searing eye on the exploitation of gypsy culture and the violence done to gypsies themselves in European history. Where Lo Real was serious, FLA.CO.MEN is lavishly playful, and feels at points more like an extended jam session than a programmatic piece. Inevitably with such a format, there are variations in the quality of the set-pieces  but that's true of all flamenco shows, episodically constructed as they are, and there is something deeply refreshing even about the lulls in Galván's symphony of oddness. I credit his sincerity: Galván may be whimsical to the point of irritation sometimes, but he's fully invested in the audience, in the energy in the room, in his fellow performers.

The latter are a talented bunch indeed, and also game for joining in with Galván's oddball larks: percussionist Antonion Moreno takes his shirt off and dances; bearded guitarrist El Caracafé jigs about like a gremlin with his guitar balanced on his palm; Eloisa Cantón plays both bass guitar and violin every which way up. The two singers share less of the larkiness, but more of the sincerity: there is a stunned hush for David Lagos as he sings an unknown tragedy from a casual perch on the edge of the stage, and something seemingly both amusing and touching about the gravelly admonitions Tomás de Perrate directs at Galván while the latter pinballs around the stage. As usual, at no time do I more regret my lack of Spanish than at this festival, where an understanding of the language would unlock layers more of interest and complexity.

If FLA.CO.MEN has a theme or unifying concept, perhaps it's genre-bending, with its blend of disco moves, blues sounds (Juan Jiménez Alba's divine saxophone), rock instruments, and Bausch-style antics with unlikely props. But even that feels like too directional an interpretation: this is simply a journey through Israel Galván's sparky imagination, a free-association game on stage in which he and his brilliant collaborators are patently having a ball and asking us to enjoy watching them. No great hardship, that.


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