Wild Card: dotdotdot dance

Lilian Baylis Theatre at Sadler’s Wells
May 26, 2016
Charlotte Kasner

Wild Card is a season of dance where a new generation of dance makers get to curate the evening, in this case Magdalena Mannion, Yinka Esi Graves and Noemí Luz of dotdotdot dance, a company that seeks to explore how traditional flamenco can be expressed in a contemporary context, and how it can be used as a medium to create dance that challenges conventions.

The trinity of song, music and dance in flamenco is conventionally also a hierarchy, with dance definitely third. However, the skills of the relative performers are normally evenly divided.

The evening opened with excellent cante hondo from Emilio Florido. Sadly, it was all downhill from there. Liam Howarth gave us excellent flamenco guitar but it was overwhelmed by excruciating noises from a cello and Dr Who-like electronic noises or hyper-amplified footsteps from speakers. I hope that, as the cello was mostly used to imitate the early attempts from the Radiophonic Workshop, it was Colin Alexander’s second best instrument.

In addition to this smorgasbord of effects, we were assailed by a performance poet who droned on, punctuating stanzas with the word “womb” at every opportunity and mimicking a broken record for extra effect. As if that were not enough, there was also a soundtrack about various peoples’ feelings about their shoes, which were punctuated by the constant abuse and misuse of the words ‘like’ and ‘sort of’.

So to the dance. Mannion, Graves and Luz have trained in a variety of dance disciplines as well as flamenco. There was once a fad called Fusion Cuisine in which usually incompatible foods were mixed, often reducing two perfectly good dishes to one that was unappetizing. That is rather what we had here.

Some dance forms have an obvious connection with flamenco, not least Indian classical dance, particularly kathak. This is hardly surprising as flamenco is thought to have developed from Indian gypsies who eventually settled in Spain. Both are rooted, earthy forms, executed with bent knees, the energy driving down through the feet, he hands being florid and expressive.

Introducing ballet and modern dance to flamenco produces a bizarre hybrid, the former being much more upright with minimal use of hands. Here, the dancers bobbed up and down or crouched and squatted as they tried to transition between styles. The theme of shoes became literal as pairs of shoes were flung between the performers for no ostensible reason. Then there was a barefoot section until the dancers struggled into their shoes and continued with the flamenco.

Gone are the days when the only flamenco available in London was of the touristy ‘spots and stamping’ polka-dotted variety. We are now spoiled by frequent visits from the flamenco greats, so nothing but the best will do. This evening was marked by muddy zapateado instead of the gun shot-sharp footwork that we usually hear. Braceo was superficial and seemed to emanate from raised shoulders rather than flowing organically from the centre of the shoulder blades. Filigrana was clunky.

Luz has made a point of studying bata de cola (a flamenco dress with a train). I know the evening was experimental, but she came on in one of the most unfortunate examples you are likely to see, laden with the shoes scattered around the stage which Luz kicked off, only for them to be re-loaded. The usual glorious sculptural power of the train was total missing: no infinitely flexible back and delicate fingers here. The final humiliation was making everyone remove their shoes for the curtain call.

An evening that challenged perceptions? Definitely. But not all experiments work. A wild card for sure. One to miss.