Peacock Theatre, London
June 14, 2016
Zik’r promises a look at flamenco from its supposed origins in India to its embedding in Spain via Arabia and that is exactly what it delivers. This is flamenco firmly rooted in those origins, rejecting the sort of pizazz of several recent productions and providing good, solid, traditional technique with feeling.
The evening opens with some particularly good palmas and a dance in a bata de cola from Zik’r creator Karen Ruimy. We then progress through various forms with a hint of flamenco’s golden age with the development of cafés cantantes and cante hondo through to the fully-fledged ‘opera period’ of public, staged performances which provide most audiences with a contact to the form. Nuevo brought in influnces from jazz and other musical forms and a plethora of musical instruments, some more suitable than others. This is illustrated unintentionally as the addition of flute, a shawm and a violin blended perfectly but the inclusion of a keyboard (and irritating sound distortions) was completely out of place. Why would one want to listen to a singer apparently standing in a tunnel and shouting as loudly as possible in order to compete with deafening rock-type music?
It is always good to see Ash Mukherjee dance and he showed us this evening that flamenco and some forms of Indian classical dance have much in common. Both are grounded styles based on relaxed knees and lots of use of second position. Filigrana must surely come from Indian dance’s hand positions? The men are particularly strong in this respect with extraordinarily graceful, yet powerful braceo proving that it is not all about flashy zapateado that, from all dancers, actually spoke to the audience and was always tempered by the nuances of the palo. Good too to see proper flamenco turns that owe nothing to ballet pirouettes. The interesting manipulation of the manton by a male dancer hinted at the subtle sexuality that flamenco can evoke as the silk shimmered in his hands and reflected the light to frame Ruimy. Singer Lola Rueda deserves a mention, with a soulful voice, displayed to good effect.
The lighting is atmospheric at times but overall, the design just tries too hard. The theme of the rising and setting sun/moon only works in the second act where it is more distinct. The whirling green star used throughout much of the first act looks more like a supermarket price offer sticker. It could almost have said ‘New, Improved!’ it was also distracting. The multiplicity of colours turned every light-coloured costume into a clown’s outfit, the constantly changing colours again proving a distraction.
Zik’r is enjoyable but could do with some trimming, although the second act is much tighter and better-paced than the first. Then this would be a truly first class evening.
It was irritating that latecomers were allowed in for up to half an hour after the curtain had gone up and the show was late starting in any event). The constant disturbance of light from torches, ushers walking up and down and talking to patrons, opening exit doors to let in beams of light and the bobbing up and down of people and need to stand up as the enjoyment of those who had bothered to arrive on time. Late arrivals should sit (or be sat) wherever is available at the back and sides, where others’ enjoyment will not be disturbed.