A sideways look at flamenco: Albert Quesada and Zoltán Vakulya in OneTwoThreeOneTwo

Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, Sadler’s Wells
April 5, 2019

Charlotte Kasner

“This is not a flamenco piece” warns the publicity material for OneTwoThreeOneTwo. No argument there. It does however promise that the “dancers use their bodies and their voices to ask ‘What is flamenco?'” Ask they may, but tell us they don’t.

Maybe that’s not too surprising since although Albert Quesada and Zoltán Vakulya are accomplished dancers, both come very much from a contemporary rather than flamenco background. Quesada is Spanish, but trained at MDT (Amsterdam) and PARTS (Brussels), while Vakulya started his studies in Budapest in his home Hungary, before moving on to SEAD in Salzburg.

Even so, flamenco does bubble through in OneTwoThreeOneTwo from time to time. But having striven to find how flamenco “creates intense, immediate communication” the pair then do the opposite. Rather than being intense, they are frenetic. What is communicated is often a roughly drawn physical facsimile of the music form, tremolos replicated in quivering, bare legs or agonised emoting faces. The intent is there but this seems more like an imagined flamenco.

When, for no obvious reason, they take a mid-show break, what atmosphere they had managed to create fizzled out and died. The second section is then more of the same. There is some bravado but there’s also a lot of writhing and grasping each other; and jumping and running. Playful it maybe but there’s no passion and very little has anything to do with the rhythm hinted at in the title. It could have been movement accompanying anything.

Quesada and Vakulya use recordings of some excellent flamenco but then hack it to pieces like a DJ sampling. Lovers of the form might easily find it disrespectful. Quesada also makes an abortive and ill-advised attempt at mimicking the cante.

About a third of it is performed in silence unless you count the huffing and puffing of the understandably tired dancers and the squeaks of their bare feet on the floor. On this occasion, we also suffered the staccato feedback from a dodgy speaker, its incontinent burps punctuating the movement with an unintentional cross-rhythm.

All round, somewhat strange and certainly disappointing.