The maverick Israel Galván, whose programme opened the festival, is one of a new generation of flamenco dancers trying hard to push the boundaries of the genre to explore its relevance in the 21st century.
His show FLA.CO.MEN is, therefore, a concept show, and one which sharply divides audiences.
The doyen of British dance critics, Clement Crisp, is a fan and awarded the show a rare 5* rating.
Mr Crisp wrote: ’this great artist deconstructs flamenco, analyses it, denies it all its flummery, and reduces it to a dangerous and intoxicating essence in his body with a prodigious rhythmic sense, imaginative verve and incandescent passion for dance.”
The Guardian was less convinced. Under a 3* rating Judith Mackrell judged: “In his enthusiasm for reinventing the possibilities of flamenco, the exceptionally talented Galván is all too prone to courting the gratingly whimsical and wilfully obscure.”
Eva Yerbabuena is also engaged in a similar, though less radical pursuit. Her show, Apariencias, was an extraordinary fusion, where she delved into the essence of flamenco and sought to establish its links with other forms and other continents.
Key to her concept was the participation of the soulful African singer Alana Sinkey, alongside an exceptional group of musicians and flamenco singers, as well as four male dancers and one female.
We felt, however, that the show only really came alive in the second half, when her obscure exploration was abandoned and Yerbabuena, herself an incomparable dancer, regaled her audience with some uncompromising flamenco dancing and zapateo.
Mercedes Ruiz’s show, Déjame que te baile (Let me dance for you), was mercifully free of concept. Here was true flamenco, more suited perhaps to a smaller Spanish tablao than to the expanses of Sadler’s Wells, but nevertheless totally engaging.
With a backing group of one outstanding guitarist, two male singers - powerful exponents of cante jondo - clapping and simple percussion on a small drum, Mercedes Ruiz danced her way through an exhilarating 90 minutes.
Musicians and dancer put on a fierce display, egging each other on with humour and vitality, and in Ruiz’s case spectacular footwork, alongside hugely expressive arms and hands.
Which goes to show, true flamenco still has the ability to grab an audience and never let go.
And that's exactly what it did in Gala Flamenca, a showcase of pure flamenco led by the legendary gypsy dancer Juana Amaya. Amaya and a talented younger generation of dancers - Patrica Guerrero, Olga Pericet and the very exciting Jesús Carmona - backed by a totally committed group of musicians, brought all the colours of Andalusia and flamenco to Doris-battered grey London.
The last show of the 2017 Festival reverts to the attempts to break down barriers, with Compañia Manuel Liñán presenting Reversible, another provoking exploration of what the FT described as "the wildest possibilities of dance."
|What||Flamenco Festival Sadler's Review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
15 Feb 17 – 26 Feb 17, 19:30 End Time Varies Sat mat 18th, 25th Feb 15:30
|Website||Click here to book via the Sadler's Wells website|