Review: Spanish National Ballet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 4:58pm

Spanish National Ballet
Sha Tin Town Hall
Reviewed: October 4

Hongkongers love flamenco and a return visit by the Spanish National Ballet, the flagship cultural ambassador for Spain's traditional dance forms, played to packed houses and rapturous applause. The dancing was magnificent, although the programme was a curious mixture. Best of all was the opening Farruca, a superb example of classic flamenco performed by three male dancers to traditional music. Juan Quintero's choreography displayed with elegance and economy the intricate footwork, flashing speed and masculine power of the dancers, led by the dazzling Mariano Bernal.

Accompanied by outstanding guitar playing and the hoarse, haunting vocals of Sebastián Cruz, this was the essence of flamenco - stripped down to raw passion and breathtaking skill, with no gimmicks or colourful costumes.

José Granero's 1987 treatment of Ravel's Bolero is imagined on a grand scale with a total of 29 dancers. It works well as theatre and builds to a powerful climax as the music gets faster and louder. However, the whole point of the Bolero is that it starts softly and slowly, building in pace and volume very gradually, but Granero's choreography failed to mirror this. Not only were the staccato rhythms of the footwork at odds with the smooth gliding of the music, but having so many dancers stamping in unison actually drowned it out at times. There was stronger choreography for the men than for the women, whose role seemed largely decorative with quick changes to different coloured costumes and much swishing of skirts.

The second half of the programme featured another work by Granero; Medea is a narrative piece based on Seneca's version of the ancient Greek legend.

First performed in 1984, this is one of the company's signature pieces, but today looks distinctly dated with echoes of choreographers from Martha Graham to Maurice Béjart. There are some powerful sections, including a simmering duet between the two leads and a scene that displays barely controlled male violence. Other moments are less effective, especially when melodrama tips over into absurdity towards the end.

This was not the fault of the dancers, who performed with admirable commitment. Esther Jurado gave her all as an impassioned Medea and there were exceptional performances from Martinez as Creon and Mariano Bernal as Jason, who both showed a remarkable ability to express character and emotion through the formal, stylised footwork.

Natasha Rogai

Correction: an earlier version of this review incorrectly stated in the first paragraph that the opening Farruca was led by Eduardo Martinez. It should be Mariano Bernal.