Arlene Phillips’ spectacular new show, co-created by flamenco star Karen Ruimy, is a feast of passion and fantasy through the medium of dance. This is a production full of heart, demonstrating skill, athleticism and physicality that is a pure joy to watch. Fusing flamenco and contemporary styles might sound odd, but it works remarkably well. Francisco Hidalgo’s flamenco choreography (and his lead performance) are off-the-scale, as is the contemporary choreography of James Cousins and the performances of the entire ensemble.
There’s a narrative of sorts. A goddess collects these astonishingly beautiful, muscular and accomplished dancers who perform for her pleasure, in a house dripping with extravagance and wealth. The unseen gods take umbrage at this decadence and punish the House by taking away everything in their lives. This story is not particularly clear to a non-Spanish speaker as most of the songs are in Spanish (naturally) which might be conveying the story. Fortunately, not understanding the lyrics of the Spanish songs doesn’t detract from the magnificence of the spectacle.
The music is loud and eclectic, from Spanish hip-hop, grunge, garage, with a few classics thrown in (eg Besame Mucho), all accompanied by the fierce drums and percussion of Calie Hough and Lauren Kosty. Mostly the musicians are perched high up at the back of the set, sometimes they join in on stage with the performers. There’s a sign in the lobby warning that the show includes loud music. This is only too accurate. At times, the music is unnecessarily ear-splittingly, bone-vibratingly loud, which tends to hide the sound of the magnificent footwork on stage.
The highlights are the ensemble numbers, the collision of the contemporary and flamenco styles, where all the dancers take on the whole gamut of moves from both types of dances. And the moments when the dancers are unaccompanied, which truly showcase their amazing talents. And the numbers when the contemporary troupe produce the most incredibly acrobatic moves. So much performance here to admire.
Jasmine Swan’s set is at first as bright and flashy as a House of Flamenka would suggest, all red and neon and velvet draperies. There are trays of delicacies to feed the writhing bodies and overall an air of debauched enjoyment. This all becomes dark in the second half, when the gods remove all the excesses of the house, and they are left with just the bare bones of the multi-level staging. Swan’s costumes also beautifully fuse the styles – classic flamenco with a contemporary twist, tight boleros with pink tulle capes and skirts, lots and lots of leather for the contemporary group. Great use is made of the different levels, with dancers adding foot taps, hand claps, castanets to the percussion from aloft.
House of Flamenka is fun, sexy and beautiful to watch, a total feast for the senses.
This world premiere of House of Flamenka is at the Peacock Theatre until 8th October. Tickets are on sale from: https://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/house-of-flamenka/
Reviewer: Carole Gordon
Reviewed: 28th September 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★