Karen Ruimy Presents: When Jazz Meets Flamenco – Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Creator: Karen Ruimy

Fusion is at the heart of Sadler’s Wells programming, finding ways to combine different styles of dance and music, classical and commercial styles, old and new work. So, Karen Ruimy’s experimental performance that unites her career as a professional flamenco dancer with her love of jazz singing is well suited to the small Lilian Bayliss Studio.

A cabaret-style show that includes more than a dozen songs over 100 minutes (advertised as 70 minutes), Ruimy’s show When Jazz Meets Flamenco is an interesting concept that almost works in practice. It alternates between the two styles, presenting a song or dance in each with an onstage band representing the dual personalities that Ruimy is trying to meld together.

The jazz sections focus on well-known 30s and 40s songs like La Vie en Rose and Dream a Little Dream of Me, mixing classic jazz with slow paced versions of more modern numbers including Lana Del Ray’s Video Games, and These Boots are Made for Walking. Ruimy’s vocal in French and English is often overwhelmed by the band and, with limited dance moves, the presentation of these becomes too similar.

The Flamenco sections fare better, creating considerable atmosphere when focused on a single guitar and Ruimy’s accompanying male singer who provides that distinctive ululating tone. On the one hand, these long segments are used to cover the four outfit changes, but they end up being some of the most affecting moments of When Jazz Meet Flamenco, especially an extended solo performance by male flamenco dancer Marco who steals Ruimy’s thunder and earns rapturous applause.

But the show needs more of the fusion that its title promises, and while the excellent jazz and flamenco bands play together, they are usually just supporting each other’s style of music. There is really only one brief riff where the two truly combine to create an entirely new sound and the show would benefit from a far greater integration between these styles within the same song.

As lead performer, Ruimy’s greatest moment is a quieter, spot-lit rendition of a flamenco song which showcases her multilingual talents and, with just a guitar as backing, provides the greatest support for her voice, capturing the emotional style and impact of the song.

Is the real child of flamenco and jazz, a sound more like tango? At its most integrated, this is where Ruimy’s song choices most clearly intersect later in the show when the predominance of solo numbers broadens into song and dance duets, building energy throughout. The idea is an interesting one but rather than side-by-side, if jazz and flamenco could be brought together musically and choreographically then Ruimy’s show could have an interesting future.

Runs until 27 November 2021

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One Comment

  1. Was I at the same show as you???
    Sadlers Wells 26th Nov? I left half way through. She can not sing, the musical arrangement was sloppy as hell and I should not have had to sit through terrible cover song after terrible cover song to get to the Flamenco part as promised in the title of the production. 1 star for me.

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