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Friday, 1 January 2010
"A propos de Sara" - the return of Sara Baras and flamenco to Paris
If your idea of what flamenco dancing is all about is a woman in a frilly polka-dot dress stomping her way across the floor to the clatter of castanets, the accompaniment of twanging guitars and the loudest of gypsy songs - think again.
Sure it's some of that, especially for tourists perhaps making their way to one of the Spanish costas and eager for an "authentic taste" of the local culture.
But as Sara Baras and her company have been proving to audiences in Paris, the dance form offers much more, and if you're passing through the French capital any time until January 11, then it is probably the show for which you should try to get tickets.
A quick read through the programme before the performance tells you that Baras - still only 37 - has in just the matter of a few years become one of the "emblematic figures of new flamenco".
"She is," we are told "a model for others, a veritable star of flamenco who is always looking to reinvent new forms of choreography."
Yes well it would say that wouldn't it? And when the curtain goes up, the highly stylised first scene, for the uninitiated at least doesn't necessarily bode well.
Admittedly there are no castanets, but there's certainly a lots of scarf waving.
"Oh, oh. Was this really such a good idea as an end-of-year treat?" some in the audience might well have been asking themselves unaware perhaps that this is just a quick look back at past numbers and there is more - much more - to come.
Because very quickly the whole thing rachets up a notch - or two - or three.
The music really kicks in. The guitars and the voices "up" the rhythm and the show is ready for lift off into a new dimension.
Actually the fact that virtually every seat at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées has been taken - and that for a Sunday matinée performance - and there are a fair number of native Spanish speakers present, should be something of a giveaway that the audience is in for something special.
"A propos de Sara" is perhaps most easily described as a "best of" the performances Baras has made and choreographed over the past 12 years, and while it might start off deceptively slowly it soon explodes into something intensely hypnotic to watch.
Solo performances from Baras herself are often frenetic, shin shuddering ones as she keeps up with the pace and rapidly increasing rhythm of the music.
Hers is a powerful, energetic and at the same time graceful display of the real nuances of flamenco, building to a roaring crescendo and then suddenly punctuating it with the softness and lightest of touches as the pace drops in a second to one in which there's almost complete silence in the auditorium.
It's just like one of those great opera voices that are able to turn on a note from full volume power to delicacy - and all seemingly without effort.
The pas de deux with guest star Jose Serrano are just as thrilling, as is the finely tuned ensemble choreography from company.
And then there's the stage setting and lighting - elements that don't usually leap out during a performance. Or if they do, it's usually because they get it so obviously wrong.
In the case of "A propos de Sara" quite the opposite is true. It's so obviously right, giving each scene a texture and finish that is a pure visual delight.
Maybe that's because it's the seventh time over the years that Baras has performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and so it's perhaps not surprising that she knows what she wants and how to get it.
Poetry on legs for one hour and 40 minutes.
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