Review: ★★★★ Fallen From Heaven, Sadler’s Wells

Review: ★★★★ Fallen From Heaven, Sadler’s Wells

Rocío Molina has achieved something extraordinary with her work Fallen From Heaven. She has taken the traditional structures of the dance – the established language of movement, music and costume – and rephrased them through the female body to create an entirely new landscape of flamenco.

We start with a stark sculptural image: a traditional flamenco dress in brilliant white swirls around the bare feet of Molina, her arms pressed behind her back. She seems bound by the dress, and sways and leans in a strangely silent episode beneath a projection of the moon. Whilst the symbolism is interesting and the choreography unusual, making great use of the floor, this section runs slightly longer than feels comfortable or necessary – a feature which recurs later in the performance. It doesn’t serve to set the tone for the rest of the show: it is quite po-faced, seeming to take itself very seriously as a work of the avant garde which serves to alienate and confuse the audience.

The show takes off from the second dance episode, in which Molina shows herself to be a powerful and inventive performer. After shedding the white dress and standing nude onstage, Molina re-clothes herself as a kind of space-age matador in tight trousers, a gold waistcoat and kneepads. Working with her team of four musicians, the company become rhythmical alchemists, each working on a different rhythm to create a strikingly complex pattern that swirls like a hurricane around the dancing Molina. Her footwork is exquisite and precise, and again the choreography is exhilarating in its nonconformity: Molina drops to her knees, slides across the stage in great lunges and rolls on her back.

Elements of clowning come through: as the company pause to eat crisps, Molina pulls a strap-on harness out of her empty crisp packet which she wears, a packet of half eaten crisps attached to the crotch. She tracks through a huge number of characters in the show, each vibrantly and specifically drawn. These characters celebrate aspects of womanhood, whether that is as a modern witch in a star-spangled kimono or a Woodstock-style hippie draped in flowers and grapes. There is also tenderness and poignancy amidst the humour, with one striking episode involving a skirt soaked in purple paint that drags across the stage. Inventive use of projection shows the stage floor on the back wall, with Molina at one point planting a small purple footprint on the face of the moon.

One of the most remarkable and moving elements of the production is the wonderful relationship that is cultivated between the musicians and Molina. Whether playfully slapping her hand away from crisp packets, washing her purple feet or challenging her with a particularly intricate rhythm, the four male musicians work to create a dynamic company around Molina, supporting and venerating her as a force and an artist. The music is also inventive, exciting and unconventional, moving from a more typical flamenco acoustic guitar or percussion to neon-clad pop-rock straight from the fertile years of the early 00s. The best moments, though, are when the four musicians surround our dancer, clapping, stamping and calling encouragements. In their simplicity, these moments express what is most exciting about this production – the dance, and the community of talent that brings the dance to life.

This is flamenco as you’ve never seen it before: unorthodox, exhilarating, and feminist.

 

Esme Mahoney

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