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  • Writer's pictureYumi La Blanca

My personal highlights of Flamenco Festival 2023

Our annual festivity, Flamenco Festival in London, has just ended. Feeling somewhat reluctant last year, I wrote: ‘I hope to feel more enthusiastic about the entire festival next year and personally wish it can move back to February or another month instead of June…’

In fact, it moved to another month this year: July, the month being already packed with numerous flamenco events in London. Probably the Spanish artists are not fans of cold London in February… In short, it was very hard for me to afford many shows from such a large lineup.

Apart from the unfortunate cancellation of Vicente Amigo on 10th July, the shows I picked were these three ‘The Big Night of the Flamenco Guitar’ at Kings Place on 9th July, ‘La Confluencia’ and ‘Gala Flamenca’ at Sadler’s Wells on 12th and 14th July respectively.

‘The Big Night of the Flamenco Guitar’

Outside Sadler’s Wells, there were equally interesting flamenco events happening at other venues, promoted by the same Flamenco Festival committee. Although I couldn’t go to the lovely Cervantes Theatre this year, I managed to visit Kings Place to bathe in the mesmerising guitar sounds.

It featured three talented guitarists: Mercedes Luján, Raúl Cantizano and José del Tomate, collaborating with the guest dancer Sara Jiménez. All of them demonstrated their distinctive artistries and individualities through their beloved instruments.

While Luján’s classical yet modern style gave us the pure joy of a beautiful soundscape, Cantizano was so experimental, innovative and funny, not only in sounds but also visually. Utilising different tools and ideals to expand the artistic boundary, his soundscape could get monstrous or playful, and his guitar itself could be visually entertaining too. Maybe his controversial style is not for everyone, but I found it was genius.

José del Tomate not only proved himself as an established soloist but also brought a band composed of a singer, another guitarist and a percussionist to create a lively, authentic and exciting tablao atmosphere. Overall, the show lived up to the title and I felt enthusiastic again with the diverse universe of flamenco guitar through this celebration.

Mercedes Luján: ‘Ahora o Nunca’

Raúl Cantizano GUITAR SURPRISE en directo

José del Tomate en "Música para mis oídos", Canal Sur TV

‘La Confluencia’ - Estévez / Paños and Company

Rafael Estévez and Valeriano Paños are dancing intellectuals. In ‘La Confluencia’, they expertly visualised the multiple ingredients of flamenco through dance choreography.

Regional traditions such as Jota, satires and humours of carnivals, joy and indulgence of festivities, Christianity, death and resurrection, human desires and rejection, suffering and struggle, Islamic and South American influences, and more…All those essences that were absorbed in the soil of Andalusian Spain were translated to the beautiful music compositions as well as the exquisite dance movements by five male bailarines.

Flamenco is the coexistence of multiple sources of influences intervening with each other. It’s a swirl, spiral, gyration rather than chronological history. It’s dynamic, circular rather than static or linear. It’s profound and expanding. To express all those living aspects of flamenco through the eloquent body movements and music - if it’s not called intelligence or talent, I don’t know what is.

All the dancers of this company were genuinely fantastic and technically strong enough so that they could individually headline a show: Albero Sellés, Jorge Morera, Jesús Perona, not to mention the leaders Estévez and Paños. Every dancer of this show shines - it was not the usual format of ‘the main dancers and the others’. From the high quality of the whole company, I sensed trust and respect between each other, as well as the generosity and professionalism of Estévez and Paños.

Estévez & Paños "La Confluencia" Baluarte Flamenco on Fire

‘Gala Flamenca’

‘Gala’ is regarded as a must for some flamenco fans in the sense that you only need one ticket to see several superstars together on one stage. The quality and intensity of Gala shows could be, however, varied, to be honest. In general, it would not be easy to integrate individually outstanding artists in a single united show.

This year, the Gala was indeed a must for me because of this single figure: Carrete de Malaga, whom I had been eager to see for ages.

The presentation was directed by Manuel Liñán, who also performed as one of the featured dancers along with El Yiyo and Alfonso Losa. While Liñán, El Yiyo and Losa, as well as the magnificent musicians including the guest singer Sandra Carrasco, all impressed the audience with their artistries and skills, and I myself enjoyed their performances, I couldn’t help wondering when Carrete would be introduced… As predicted, he did not show up until the very end of the show.

I was curious how Liñán would try to include Carrete among those intense male dancers. As the show progressed with footwork-filled athleticism, there didn’t seem to be a space for the unique artist of a very different style. I started to think that they should have split the show in two, one with the three bailaores and the other with Carrete as his solo show.

Finally, the much-anticipated star made his appearance, who was hidden behind Liñán’s raised bata de cola. It was a clever and interesting way to introduce the master.

Carrete’s Tarantos was playful, graceful and elegant. Despite his unconventional style, somehow his interpretation was spot-on. He’s basically ‘Fred Astaire meets flamenco’. He proudly has his own style, aire and arte, gracia and magia. He is one and only. I’m usually not keen on doing standing ovations if I’m sitting in the front row, as it might force people behind me to stand up too regardless of how they felt about the show. For Carrete, I couldn’t help doing it, and fortunately most of the audience felt the same. If only we had been able to see his dance more…

Carrete de Málaga, por bulerías en la presentación del 18 Festival Flamenco de Londres - Junio 2023

As far as those particular shows are concerned, the Flamenco Festival this year was quite enjoyable and uplifting for me. Hopefully, next year, none of the shows will clash against each other like a few of them this year, and we will be able to see more artists who have not yet been discovered by London audiences, like Carrete de Malaga, this year’s sensation.

How I almost missed the Flamenco Festival (3rd July 2022)

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