Creators: Karen Ruimy and Arlene Phillips
Director: Arlene Phillips
Some of the best dance shows come from projects that take a very specific dance form and mix it with elements from other disciplines. Such is the case with House of Flamenka, which takes the Andalusian flamenco style and collides it with more contemporary dance stylings to create something brand new.
Directed by Arlene Phillips, the show is co-created with dancer Karen Ruimy, who in this show assumes the mantle of a goddess who has a bevy of male dancers who perform for her amusement. Half of the troupe are flamenco specialists, with the other half coming from the contemporary aesthetic.
The programme implies a narrative about Ruimy’s goddess angering the other gods and condemning her and her dancers to purgatory. While that’s not especially clear from the work on stage, the transition away from the initial set (all velvet curtains, rococo furniture and neon signage) to the barer stage signals the point at which, as the dancers descend into hell, the show itself begins to ascend.
The first act is broken up into segments based on some of the familiar accoutrements of the flamenco style: hats, fans and skirts. From the circular wide-brimmed Cordovan hat to the asymmetrical skirt – part trip hazard, part train, part dance partner – as a deconstruction of what we believe traditional flamenco to be, and how those elements can be reconstituted into something new and exciting, it’s an intriguing prospect.
This deconstruction is marred slightly by jarring transitions between musical numbers, which hinders the concept. Designer Jasmine Swan’s costumes, a combination of tight-fitting toreador pants and leather harnesses, already imbue the whole shebang with a layer of campness, enhanced by milongas and other dance pairings between the male dancers. When some of the dancers emerge wearing fuchsia-pink maid’s outfits with matching feather dusters, there is the creeping dread that the campness will subsume the quality of the choreography (by James Cousins and Francisco Hidalgo).
Ruimy’s brief appearances also lend an air of artificiality to proceedings. Armed with a wireless mic, Ruimy’s singing lends little to proceedings and, if anything, distracts from the rest of the presentation.
Thankfully matters right themselves in the second act, starting with some impressive chair work from the contemporary ensemble accompanied by the percussive foot-stamping of the flamenco men. Building up from there, including a dance-off comparing flamenco to more modern tap, House of Flamenka shows that the further away from the high camp antics of Act I it gets, the stronger it becomes.
And it is in this sequence that Ruimy, putting down the microphone, shows her worth as a pure flamenco dancer. Both in solo work and in partnership with Hidalgo, she shows that the dance form is just as powerful as it ever was, and that it has much to contribute to the contemporary repertoire.
Indeed, the whole enterprise could be read as an exercise in the push and pull of mixing contemporary and classical dance forms. At times it seems as if flamenco is redolent in chest-thrusting machismo, while the contemporary dancers are often presented as androgynous, more effete and, if one subscribed to gender stereotypes, more feminine.
What House of Flamenka does well, at least by the end, is to show that hypermasculinity and high camp are only a hair’s breadth apart, and that mixing the two can be a whole lot of fun.
Continues until 8 October 2022