Experimental, exciting and extremely well executed, Patricia Guerrero’s Catedral is a fitting finale to Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival 2019. It is a baroque battle cry of the female spirit, and the dancers rail against religious and social constraints with style and power.
As is suggested in the title, the stage is transformed into a sacred space, using a rich velvety darkness against which points of light are picked out like stars. A chandelier hangs slightly off centre, and a tall candlestick burns in the suffocating dark, the small flame trapped and isolated evoking the sense of a spirit contained.
The religious space is enacted in the music as well: we begin with percussion creating a wash of church bells, and a distinctly Catholic flavour is brought by the two singers Diego and Daniel Pérez. Dressed in red choir robes, their liturgical singing haunts the space throughout the piece, informing and controlling the action – at one point they call and gibber behind Guerrero like vicious demons, personifying a sharp and needling religious shame. Interwoven with episodes of the more traditional flamenco sounds of guitar, percussion and vocals, the piece brings all the aural elements together in the final dance. The mournful strains of Purcell’s Dido’s Lament ring through beside the guitar and percussion, creating an unexpected and ingenious fusion of forms.
Supported by a corps of three powerful female dancers, Guerrero takes centre stage in a vigorous and transformational exploration. Appearing first in a towering mantilla and full gown, Guerrero struggles in a chair, movements flitting from her restless hands and feet. We see the effort to contain herself as she catches at her own limbs, attempting to subdue the flares of energy as they surface. The dress becomes loose, transforming Guerrero into some kind of medieval monster – headless, sprouting limbs – an image which reappears in an inventive pas de deux with another female dancer in which their two bodies seem to meld and become a many-limbed creature. In the finale moments of the piece, Guerrero has shed all constraints and dances in a red dress, her hair loose, in a celebration of freedom and individuality.
The choreography moves between the intricately expressive and the boldly confrontational. Hands are used with exquisite precision to indicate breath, fluttering like nervous birds to wring shapes out of the air. The footwork is rhythmically complex, controlled yet expressive, and turns are expansive and dynamic with the four female dancers challenging one another to even greater feats of daring and skill. This is a fusion of the traditional flamenco form with the modern spirit of women: the dancers bring together the masculine and the feminine¸ working with courage and skill to transcend restrictions and expectations. They become creatures of the dance, pure rivers of energy and movement, and it is invigorating and inspiring to behold.
The show is not perfect, with some moments of group dance lacking the snap of synchronisation. It is, however, stylistically focused, reinventing the significance of the sacred space and the role of women within it. Where once the masses were contained and controlled, in Catedral we now see individuals flourish, growing into their power and significance through raw and beautiful dance.