And if that sounds a bit ponderous, or excessively woke, take a look at this:
Winner of a raft of awards, including Spain’s National Dance Prize, Manuel Liñán created ¡VIVA! in 2019 for the Jerez Festival, where he is idolised by an enthusiastic audience. The show has all the trimmings of proper drag: padded breasts, hips and bums, wigs adorned with flowers, tonnes of make-up and colourful flouncy dresses.
Just visible behind a translucent shimmering curtain, the musicians get the show under way. Slowly a spotlight focuses on a red-clad figure, centre stage, her back turned to us. (A word of warning: throughout this review the pronouns she/he will alternate practically at random. It’s that kind of a show.)
Very slowly her hands, crossed behind her back, start curling and rotating as only flamenco dancers' hands can. Then the arms, slowly, as if to give you time to get used to the idea that what you are seeing is an illusion, yet there is no need: the idea immediately grabs you by the throat and never lets go.
Then a curtain rises to show a tableau made up of five other dancers, bunched together on a bench, urging Liñán on, while a sixth walks on, singing in a deep baritone about girls dancing.
There is a lot of humour in ¡VIVA!, as befits a drag show, and the dancers are not trying to pass for women. On the contrary, part of the fascination is their acknowledgement that they are men, gay men, free now to explore other sides of their being, and by doing so giving flamenco new life and new relevance in modern Spain.
Each is given an opportunity to explore his own physicality and sense of self through dancing. Hugo López uses his tall, svelte figure to great effect in a balletic choreography infused with a unique blend of humour, softness and yearning; in contrast, the shorter, more compact Jonatan Miró’s solo is fiercer, more aggressive, retaining stronger hints of traditional masculinity.
And then, of course, there’s Manuel Liñán himself: small, nervy and the most electrifying of dancers, his machine-gun-like zapateado ricocheting off the theatre walls for what seems like an eternity, while his body twists and turns, his skirts riding and falling until you think no human being can possibly survive this.
The show builds to a deeply moving finale where, after meeting traditional expectations by all wearing identical ‘batas de cola’, the polka-dot dresses with their enormous trains, gradually the dancers start appearing in their underwear, before finally lining up downstage and slowly divesting themselves of all the performance props to stand before us as simple human beings.
It was a powerful statement of our common humanity and reminded me of über-drag artist Ru Paul’s quip: ‘We’re all born naked; the rest is drag.’
|What||Manuel Liñán, ¡VIVA! review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
21 Jun 22 – 22 Jun 22, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour 50 mins approx no interval
|Price||£15-£55 (+booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book|