Review: ★★★★ Sombras, Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras, Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Review: ★★★★ Sombras, Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras, Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Sara Baras Sombras creates something of a flamenco cathedral onstage, complete with stained glass lighting, soaring music and vivid costumes. A monument celebrating and revering the form, it runs like a medieval passion play through a gamut of emotions and scenes, deconstructing the mythology of this intense and unique dance. Over all the proceedings reigns Sara Baras herself, a legendary dancer and high priestess of flamenco whose eponymous company celebrates two decades of innovative and exciting work.

Unsurprisingly, Baras is the star of her own show – at least when it comes to dancing. Her corps of six dancers have a stunning group dance early in the evening: a spectacular hybrid of flamenco and something approaching jazz in which they stamp and strike blue canes on the floor. It is brilliant, and certainly the best piece involving the corps which otherwise feels slightly underused and under-drilled – part of the spell of a corps de ballet is the pin-sharp precision in movement and synchronisation, which wasn’t quite achieved by Baras’ dancers. Although, to be fair, they have a difficult job sharing the stage with someone quite so extraordinarily dominant in talent and presence as Baras.

She is La Jefa – the boss. Dancing her signature La Farruca, a dance traditionally only performed by men, Baras establishes herself as the absolute master of her craft in the early stages of the performance. Each individual moment is carefully placed, her hands moving like creatures in water or oil in a display of exquisite articulation and control. Words cannot do justice to the rapidity of her feet – at moments she seemed to glide across the stage like a mechanical toy, her feet hammering into a blur beneath her.

The piece is at its best when Baras performs with the fantastic musicians onstage. Particularly memorable is the mind-blowing dance that occurs between Baras and Diego Villegas on Saxophone. Dancer and musician challenge, tease and support one another in a pas de deux across forms, and the result is a piece both savage and delicate with Baras and Villegas pushing the boundaries of their own instruments as well as those of their partner. They dare one another, increasingly complex melodies and patterns forming the improvisational back and forth – it is a transcendental display exposing a rare level of talent and artistry.

The lighting by Óscar Gómez de los Reyes is stunning, moving from atmospheric washes of full-bodied colour to a series of delicate rays in perfect harmony with the music and action onstage. Andrés Mérida’s enormous set sketches of long limbed creatures haunt the space at key moments, with one leaping figure looking almost like Christ on a crucifix, an impression that is exacerbated by Baras falling to her knees in adoration before it.

A final word on design must go to Luis F. Dos Santos and the fabulous costumes. There are many memorable moments, with dresses seeming to expand and transform like living things through the dances. Yellow ombré skirts pick up in the specks of light like stars; Baras dances seemingly clothed in water; and in one fantastic and powerful dance the women of the corps wear the classical flamenco dress with a long ruffled train. The way the costumes change the choreography is fascinating, and the dresses are an integral aspect of the character and essence of these dances.

Running at around an hour and forty-five minutes with no interval the show felt a little overblown and some sections could have been lost without any notable damage to the overall piece. However, on the whole it is an invigorating and extraordinary evening of vibrant music and furiously good dancing.

Esme Mahoney

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