Jonathan Jones, in a wonderful article published several years ago (‘The Guardian, 2004), spoke of improvisation as being a particularly American art form. Jazz, he linked to the acting style of Marlon Brando. But after watching Farruquito’s superb dance sequences, Improvisao, a return, he says, to his Spanish gypsy roots , one realizes that while American improvisation may be the one most of us are familiar with, other cultures have their own way of bending the script, to marvelous effect.
This is flamenco as so few of us have seen it. The power, the control, the sexiness is there, even though there is no other to tame or to be conquered by. A man, Juan Manuel Fernandes Montoya, known as Farruquito , stands before a group of singers and musicians and dances for them and to their urging. The spotlight shifts between singers/musicians and dancer, the stage backdrop changes colour from time-to-time and Farruquito has several changes of outfits (from black to white to red and black again). But as far as the staging goes, that is it, and one acknowledges that not only is this sufficient but that in this context, anything more would be superfluous.
The learning that has gone into making this improvisation possible is evident in the dancer’s precision and his openness to the calls (in the singing, music and the clapping of hands) of his group, who are, strangely, his primary audience. Though Farruquito, hand held to heart, makes frequent bows to us the Sadler’s Wells audience, we are secondary because our knowledge and our instinct is not honed to his in the way that his singers and musicians is. At times, it feels like one is spying on a group of gypsy players at their most heightened consciousness of self and of joy. Our lives are greater for witnessing this magical spectacle, though it brings with it too a certain shade of sadness. The virility and the commonality of spirit it shows us is not removed from us because it is primitive and we are sophisticated; such thinking is glib. It is we who have removed ourselves from this sphere, whether deliberately or unknowingly, and all that is left for us to do is observe.
This is dancing at its most exquisite, almost too painful to watch, for how can so much beauty be contained in one human body and how can such a rigidly held frame yet convey such searing vulnerability?
I strongly feel that a sign of a great artist is that he/she seeks to work with other artists of the same/ or near equal calibre and intent. The singers and musicians here are never incidental to Farruquito’s performance; they are integral to it. While the two female singers (Mara Rey Navas and Mari Vizarraga) egg him on almost sexually, like bullfighters toying with a bull, it is the voices of the two male singers (Antonio Flore Cortes and Pepe de Pura) that stilled me. Though flamenco is a rapid moving, high intensity dance, the pace of the evening is varied by the troupe of singers and musicians, especially the one guitar solo we were offered.
In describing such an evening, one wishes one had the technical knowledge of this form to describe Farruquito’s different movements. One also wishes one knew enough Spanish to make out what the songs were about. As I have neither, I’ve been limited to trying to convey what Farruquito’s dancing meant to me. This was a rich evening and yet another astounding hit for Sadler’s Wells.