Absolutely thrilling to witness flamenco group La Barraca in full flight at the Kings Place festival on Saturday.
Flamenco is such an extraordinary art-form – it always seems like the performers are working close to the limit, extreme demands being placed upon them. It’s an art-form of skill, stamina and almost unbearable beauty.
Here at Kings Place, despite the decidedly un-evocative time of 1.30pm, we were instantly captured and transported by three incredible performers and by the power of a tradition that’s never had its edges dulled or its emotions diluted.
From the opening moments of Alexander Gavilan’s beautiful guitar-playing, we understand that this is music of rare intensity – expressive, intricate melodies, the guitarist’s fingers scaling the upper reaches of the fretboard; then an explosion of rhythmic strumming like gunfire. The contrast between passion ‘held in’ and then suddenly let go seems to be one of the defining characteristics of flamenco – and one of the things that make it so exciting. Next the unforgettable moment of hearing Maria Marin’s wonderful voice for the first time – a cry like a new-born baby, anguished, open and timeless; it seems like she’s expressing a deep and long-endured pain. Finally the dramatic entrance of Federico Ordonez – like a shadow he comes to the stage, his movements understated yet rich, unfolding into a performance that’s breathtaking in its evocation of darkness and light. Elegance, honour, exuberance and passion that by turns smoulders and leaps for joy – all of these things are expressed by this extraordinary dancer.
I’m captivated by the togetherness of the group, by the closeness of their communication. Each element – guitar, voice, dance – is distinct yet at the same time they’re all inter-related and indispensable. In the midst of the searing intensity of their performance, the artists watch each other like hawks – the guitarist in particular is watching the dancer’s feet all the time. Their super-awareness allows them to follow and adapt to every nuance; it makes for a thrilling live experience for the audience.
Percussive effects come from the dancer’s feet and body (Ordonez’ footwork is so rapid I start to believe that there’s smoke rising from the stage); and of course from the singer’s clapping – it’s a vital element of flamenco, amazingly varied tonally and powerful in raising the temperature even higher. Also characteristic are the singer’s exhortations to the others. I love these spontaneous cries of appreciation and encouragement: it must feel great, when you’re operating at this level of intensity, to have these expressions of affirmation backing you up. A flamenco performance such as this leaves you exhilarated, dazzled and wondrous of the endless capacity of human expression.
Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos at Kings Place – only one of the view overlooking Kings Cross Station, gateway to the north!
This performance was the gateway to the hot south and exotic east though… So here are some complementary shots from Andalucia (late autumn in Granada – a fabulous time to be there) 🙂