Iconoclastic, avant garde, brilliant are just a few of the words that can be used to describe Israel Galván, the dancer who is extending the range of flamenco into extreme movement, surrealism, comedy and mystery.
He begins his show with a young woman, Eloísa Cantón, issuing instructions to him as he appears to follow them from a book on a music stand in front of him. His rapid zapateado (foot stamping) soon makes it plain that he needs no instruction. In tight-fitting black from head to toe, he reaches out high with his legs, claps his hands with a speed that matches his feet, rhythmically snaps his fingers, whirls into vertiginous spins, makes great sweeping gestures with his arms, modulates the sound of his footwork from a merest whisper to a thunderous roar.
Backing him eventually is a band with Cantón on violin, two guitarists, Caracafé and Juan Jiménez, and percussionist Antonio Moreno behind a fortress of two bass drums, two kettledrums, a vibraphone and a full drum kit. Essentially adding to the music, David Lagos and Tomás de Perrate are thrillingly passionate flamenco singers.
The performance develops rather like a variety show, with a great star and supporting artists into a series of non-narrative sequences. In one, Galván dances on a collection of coins spread out on the floor, scattering them with his chattering feet. In another, he duets with Moreno, feet and drumbeats answering one another. Later, the theatre darkens, he gets down from the stage and goes up one side of the audience and Moreno (presumably) goes up the other, softly hand-beating a drum. Close contact with the audience has him getting down from the stage again, and dancing at the end of a row. Separately, Lagos and de Perrate come down and sit on the edge of the stage to sing.
Among all the virtuosity there are occasional lapses — the instruction book has only blank pages, and Galván tears them off, except for a few that he pins to his clothing, and one to his hair so that he dances with his face covered. And at the curtain call, the musicians and singers all give a brief performance. Galván arrives last, in a white dress coin-spotted and trimmed in red, and proceeds to turn faster and faster until he falls over. Is there a faint implication that women are less good than men as flamenco dancers?
Whatever the case, these are small blemishes in an eye-opening evening of extraordinary dance and music.
FLA.CO.MEN was performed at her Majesty’s Theatre on Friday, March 9.