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A CurtainUp London London Review
Flamenco, Flamen'ka

All it takes to die is to be alive.— Narrator
Flamenco, Flamen'ka
Two of the Male Flamenco Dancers
(Photo: Brian Aris)
Who would have thought that London would have a dance show featuring knife crime, murder, prostitution, living off immoral earnings and domestic violence? Such is the passionate setting for the Latin show Flamenco, Flamen'ka.

I had great fun at Craig Revel Horwood's dance spectacular which comes to Shaftesbury Avenue's Lyric Theatre. Craig Revel Horwood is known to BBC Television viewers as the acerbic judge on reality show, Strictly Come Dancing where celebrities compete in a ballroom dancing competition and those who are less than perfect are recipients of softly, softly positive comments from three of the judges, but have their dancing egos shredded by Mr Horwood. He is known for saying things like "that couple do not know their pas de deux from their passa doble." Unfortunately no theatre critics are celebrated enough to take part in the show or we could well have seen revenge taken on Mr Horwood.

The show had its origins in France with the dancer who plays the madam and the narrator, Karen Ruimy, but I suspect the direction and staging additions by Craig Revel Horwood are as much to pull in the British television audience by using his name as to fundamentally change the show. The flamenco dance is wonderful as is the live band with its guitar music and traditional Spanish singing. I loved the unaccompanied plain song "cante jondo" which is so full of soulful emotion. The set has the arches of three sides of a Spanish town square with a balcony and is beautifully lit. Costumes are largely traditional but there are some modern dressed women dancers thrown into the mix.

Dominating the first act is a dramatic dance solo from Manuel Gutierrez Cabello whose wet look long wavy hair falls in front of his face as he seriously stares ahead reminding me of a teenager in a very bad mood. His solo in the first act is a true marathon of dance endurance and discipline. Of course as my colleague pointed out, it is his feet I should be looking at not his face, because the steps are faultless. An exciting Pas de Quatre sees the brothers (Francisco Hidalgo and Manuel Gutierrez Cabello) with a girl each (Sharon Sultan and Inma Aranda Espejo). Then there is the answer to Matthew Bourne with the all male tango of passionate homoeroticism, the male dancers with knives, paired with each other. Interesting. Some of the flamenco moves had the addition of jerky arm movements like those techno 1920s gym exercises, square movements contrasting with the tradition flamenco arm twisting which was imaginative use. I think this innovative blend of styles must be Craig Revel Horwood's creative input. Flamenco, Tango and Salsa styles are melded into the musical but with some modern choreography as well.

What is problematic is the storyline which we are told is based on the short stories by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. The show opens with an older woman (Karen Ruimy) dancing in front of a looking glass. A younger woman dancer appears exactly mirroring her movement. She is Juliana (Sharon Sultan) and she dances with two brothers Cristian (Francisco Hidalgo) and Eduardo (Manuel Gutierrez Cabello) and is murdered by the men followed by a funeral scene. We flash back to the beginning of the story having started at the end. Cristian has bought Juliana from a local brothel (bordello) but both brothers fall in love with her. The relationship between the brothers is messed up so Juliana has to die so that they can get back on an even keel. Do you sense that they have lost my sympathy here? In between there is lots of posturing on the streets from men fired up with alcohol and wielding silver blades and attitudes full of machismo. This is very visual and exciting if not sympathetic. Cristian treats Juliana like a slave and Eduardo goes to the brothel to get his own girl. There is some to-ing and fro-ing of ownership of Juliana between the brothers and the madam at the brothel before the brothers decide that Juliana is to blame for the sibling discord and must die. The love between two brothers is more important than a woman's life. Strange ideas of honour here.

Flamenco, Flamen'ka
After stories by Jorge Luis Borges
Directed and staged by Craig Revel Horwood
Choreographers: Marjorie Ascione, Manuel Gutierrez Cabello, Jérôme Zerbi

Starring: Karen Ruimy, Manuel Gutierrez Cabello, Inma Aranda Espejo, Francisco Hidalgo, Sharon Sultan
With: Marjorie Ascione, Jérôme Zerbi, Fabien Hannot, Pascale Franco, Noé Barroso Gonzalez, José Manuel Álvarez, Luis Casado Rodriguez, , Cesar Ancizar Velasquez, Rachel Kay, Jeremy Braitbart
Musicians and Singers: Ninon Foiret, Melchior Campos, Cristo Cortes, Antoino Gomez ‘Kadu', Daniel Manzanas, Victor Marquez Muñoz, James Barclay, Enrique Galassi, John Barwood.
Design: Diego Pitarch
Lighting: Ben Cracknell
Sound: Colin Pink
Musical Supervisor: Mike Moran
Flamenco Arrangements and Original Composition: Daniel Manzanas
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 412 4661
Booking to 15th November 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 25th September 20083rd June 2008 performance at Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury avenue, London W1 (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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