The simplicity of the raw materials of flamenco – guitar, throaty singing, hand percussion and, of course, dance – makes it the perfect subject for artistic innovation, whether with choreography, theatre or cross-cultural collaboration. And it is that spirit that brings Spain’s finest cultural export to Sadler’s Wells each February. This edition of the Flamenco Festival is no different with ballet, drama and contemporary music influences part of the programming over eight 90-minute shows.
Monday night’s gig, however, presented flamenco in its purest form, and judging by the frequent cries of ‘Olé’ from the stalls, it attracted a fair few aficionados. One the world’s finest flamenco guitarists, Gerardo Núñez, performed with his quintet and special guest (and also his wife), gypsy dancer Carmen Cortés.
This was earthy, virtuosic flamenco, with a dramatic edge offset by a sense of humour. At the centre of their seven-piece set were the two epic dances by Cortés – the first a stately number in one of flamenco's famous trailing dresses; the second a high-octane dash during which two of the white flowers in Cortés hair flew off, such was the speed of movement of her head and torso. Behind her, and in fact all night, the quintet were electrifying, changing mood and tempo seamlessly.
When Cortés wasn’t dancing, different members of the quintet combined in a variety of guises. Núñez’s guitar playing is inventive, whip-crack smart but still empathetic and he dazzled whenever he played, for example in the opening duet with percussionist Angel Sanchez “Cepillo”. It wasn’t just his show though. “Cepillo” and the excellent two singer-hand clappers sat round a temporary table for a tavern-style interlude that featured fiery rhythms and high spirits.
The lighter moments were necessary to leaven the pure intensity of the dances and full ensemble pieces, and the encores provided further light relief. The six musicians came to the front of the stage for an acoustic goodbye, during which they swapped roles and japed around. A lighthhearted end to a heavyweight evening.