Ballet Nacional (Spain)

Festival Theatre
Adelaide Festival Centre

reviewed by Deanna Blacher


This was an extraordinary dance season, not only for the quality of every aspect of the production but also for the emotions engendered – and the solidarity apparent between company and audience – in the wake of the horrific
train bombings in Madrid.

Dancing, as always, with genuine passion and sense of drama, intensified in the days following the Atocha
killings, the BN fully engaged the audiences that packed the Festival Centre, Adelaide for each performance of the season. Certainly, there was an awareness that we were experiencing dance theatre of greatness, only rarely encountered in years of viewing the best – and the worst ­ in dance. These performances, though, will live in the
memory long after the applause has died and the posters faded.

The dancers of the BN rank with the very best in the world’s top classical and contemporary companies. They do a daily ballet class and it is this innate discipline as well as unusual versatility that make a strong impression. In addition to the four main styles of Spanish dance (of which flamenco is only one), jazz and contemporary dance movementare part of daily practice. The BN choreographers thus have that rare breed of dancers with whom to work: those who, in technical and stylistic terms, can do just about anything. It results in dance that is exciting to watch and infinitely more interesting than an evening of unrelieved, albeit pure, flamenco. The BN’s artistry , not least its overall musicality, is exceptional. And the percussive nature of much of the company’s presentation adds to the visual elegance and grandeur of their dancing.

Former company member, now director, Elvira Andres, who brings her own experience and training as Spanish classical and flamenco dancer to her work, has created a unique blend of the traditional and the contemporary that so many dance practitioners seek but so seldom achieve. I particularly admired her choreography entitled Mujeres (Women) which comes across as a celebration of the female form in current Spanish dance terms.

In an environment where attention is often more focussed on the male dancers (who more usually receive the lion’s share of kudos), seeing women dancers so commandingly brought into the limelight made for an engrossing experience. This abstract piece represented the inextricable interweaving of dance in the lives of these performers. Six women in elegant gray gowns, different necklines underlining their individuality, mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the intriguing mix of classical, contemporary and flamenco dance movement, seamlessly-stated castanet obligati and set to an evocative contemporary score.

The artistry of the women and clever choreography gave substance to an idea that might have worked less well in
less accomplished hands. And the legacy of Victoria Eugenia’s influence with her intensely musical setting of
the castanets within a feminine dance style, was a welcome presence in Mujeres.

El Grito, a choreography by Antonio Canales, was the curtain raiser, opening with a Siguiriyas sung in the
purest of jondo styles. Dressed in pastel shades that were reminiscent of some of Goya’s tapestries, and led by
Ester Jurado, (a Sevillana carrying the purest traditions in her blood and bones), the dancers gave us Siguiriyas, Soleares, Alegrias and Tangos in impeccable style and compas. Backed by three guitarists, as many singers, a flautist and a percussionist on cajon, this was a splendid partnership.

Similarly, the Farruca danced on alternate nights by Oscar Jimenez and Francisco Velasco, was a memorable marriage of music and dance where footwork was an additional percussive dimension and an integral part of the whole. Both have prodigious techniques which admirably serve their different interpretations.

Having seen many interpretations of the role of Medea as choreographed by Jose Granero, featuring, inter alia, those of Manuela Vargas, Merche Esmeralda, Ana Gonzalez and Lola Greco – all flamenco dancers of greatness – I cannot readily recall so gripping an interpretation as that of Maribel Galliardo. Her finely wrought portrayal of Medea as a deeply troubled woman, scorned and in emotional pain was rivetting and unfailingly in character in every one of her performances of the Adelaide season. It was a tour de force.

Juan Mata as the father and Francisco Velasco as Jason led a strong cast that created a small miracle each night of the run.

Granero’s choreography, arguably the finest of his career, skillfully weaves flamenco, folk tradition and ballet into
a satisfying whole. The danced conversations were particularly succint in a way that made program notes superfluous; the message of the story was unambiguously conveyed.

I would have liked to experience Medea to a live orchestral accompaniment playing Manuel Sanlucar’s splendid score. The togetherness that would have resulted from a sympathetic conductor presiding over events was sometimes lacking – but in relations to the splendour of the production as a whole, this is little more than a quibble.

The lighting design was consistently appropriate to the changing moods of the production.

Copyright 2004 Deanna Blacher

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