Gala Fiesta de la Bulería de Jerez, Mujeres de Cal y Cante

Sadler’s Wells, London
June 24, 2022

It’s little wonder Sadler’s Wells hosts a flamenco festival (June 21-July 2). It’s entertaining, watchable stuff even when not the best. So, when it’s cream of the crop, olé!

‘Olé’ could be heard on and off stage on Friday night. Audience members were so taken by Gala Fiesta de la Bulería de Jerez, Mujeres de Cal y Cante that they started to interject, “olé, wapa, La Moneta,” to show their respect and engagement with the performers. And rightly so; such a feast for the senses it is.

If you don’t know flamenco well it doesn’t take long to get familiar. The performances tend to have the same framework. Vignettes are grouped together and allow for individual dancers to shine. Of course, there can be group work – Gala de Jerez by Compañía Maria del Mar Moreno opened with a powerful tableau of the cast in silhouette looking out into the audience. The presence of women became clear. They were the community we were about to explore.

One could also say that flamenco movement language isn’t an endless entity but rather many variations of the same thing. But that says more about how something is done, rather than what it is. And that’s the point: the performers are what keep the tradition, style and live performances riveting.

The company has an esteemed group of four musicians, four singers and five dancers. The sense of community is palpable, as is the intense connection between the rhythm of the musicians, the emotion of the singers and the abandon of the dancers. 

The show has three headliners that each encapsulate something profound about flamenco’s draw. María del Mar Moreno, the gala’s director highlights all one expects classically speaking. Dark hair, intense eyes and skill beyond belief. The leg and footwork is something else. Rhythms the speed of light. No exaggeration. And all executed with a facial expression somewhere between anguish and arrogance.

Fuensanta la Moneta feels like the contemporary angle. The power her body and dancing incorporates is like an ever-exploding bomb. She can of course also do subtlety, but even then she’s fizzing with anticipation. Most noticeable is her use of the upper body: back bends with depth that beggar belief, and speed/height of elevation that one normally only sees in an animal. Mesmerising. 

And then Pastora Galván (from the family dynasty), who really is the wild card. Her two vignettes are the most confusing as they involve a sense of irony that borderlines on the spoof. But in the end you realise she is far from a joke. Her dancing is raw, the look; dishevelled at times. But the end result is that she has the audience completely wrapped around her little finger. We couldn’t get enough.

A fourth you can’t ignore is Tía Juana La Del Pipa. She seems to be the matriarch of the group. More mature, and both singer and dancer at times; she holds the gaze of all her contemporaries when she does either. And the voice: Frank Butcher had no chance.

At the beginning of the evening the three headliner women dance a section of unison and it highlights how different they are. Three dancers doing the same steps in totally different physical, and emotional ways. This is why (formulaic) flamenco always feels fresh and relevant.

The other imperative ingredient is of course the music. But it’s so much more than accompaniment. It’s the source of everything. The emotional incentive, the rhythmical propeller. The way the two converse is also compelling to observe: the singers’ dance as they perform. Not officially but their bodies are vibrating with movement. The dancers sing; without words or voices, but their bodies are so expressive it feels like they are. And this is often done directly towards each other. It’s a physical/emotional conversation. You don’t see this level of connection in many genres, making it all the more potent.

Also worth mentioning is Antonio Malena and his style of singing. When happening if you close your eyes it sounds like the Islamic call to prayer, taking southern Spain’s Moorish roots to another level.

In a nutshell flamenco will never die. Its inherent in everything Spanish. And the further south you go the more you can’t escape it. It’s become very popular worldwide, in performance and practice. There’s a flamenco class available around most corners nowadays. You can definitely learn flamenco, but can you teach duende? I’d suggest no. Hence why we keep going back to watch: to source that quality of passion only very few inhabit.