The setting for Flamenco sin Fronteras was the simplest possible. Singers and musicians seated on plain wooden chairs arranged in a half circle, the dancers performing at the front of the stage. The musicians on the left were playing the familiar acoustic guitar, but the ones on the right played variations on the guitar that looked as if they’d been stretched, compressed or shrunk.
For a glimpse, see this (slow-loading) short video from Sadler’s Wells. It’s a little unsettling because the audio track does not quite match what you see, but the general idea is clear.
Unfortunately, at the Nieuwe Luxor, no program seemed to be available, or we never found the person selling it – something that happens to us a lot at events here in Rotterdam. So, I had no idea of the names of the performers, the music they were playing, or what the singers belted out in voices straight from the guts. The real surprise came after the introductory flamenco piece, all rhythm, earth, fire and flame, when a happy lilting, hip-swinging tune inspired more by Africa than Spain rang out. I was very confused. Having had no time to read about the performance beforehand, I had no idea what was happening except I was pretty sure it was not flamenco.
On his website, Paco Peña explains that Flamenco sin Fronteras looks at the musical cross-fertilization between Spain and Latin America since the turn of the 20th century when musicians from Spain came into close contact with Latin American music as they toured or migrated to the continent. The musicians playing the unfamiliar variations of the guitar were from Venezuela.
It was, however, the flamenco dancers who dominated the evening. The acoustics in the Nieuwe Luxor theatre are very good, but I was still surprised at how clearly the sound of one man snapping his fingers traveled to row six on balcony one. Imagine then the rhythm tapped, beat, hammered out by the shoes and the clapping. I had the misfortune of having a music teacher who petrified me (I was 7) and, as a result, singing petrifies me, clapping out a rhythm makes me break out in a cold sweat, and the thought of dancing in public is torture, but these dancers, they are rhythm from the tip of the finger to the tip of the shoe. I am consumed with envy.
For an in-depth review with more information about the amazing artists, see the arts desk.