Choreography: Albert Quesada, Zoltán Vakulya
Reviewer: Gus Mitchell
OneTwoThreeOneTwo, featured in the Lilian Baylis studio Sadler’s Wells for only two performances, is a startling and thought-provoking hour of dance. It features two male performers, the Spanish Albert Quesada (originator of the concept) and Hungarian Zoltán Vakulya, co-choreographers, as they probe both the depths and surfaces of flamenco music, dance, as well as its general animus.
Originating from Andalucía, combining influences from Moorish to Gypsy to native Spanish, flamenco remains both an ancient, almost sacred ritual as well as a vibrantly alive, and still evolving form. To me it seems that the piece required a decent knowledge of at least the basics of flamenco in order to feel fully prepared to be drawn into it, and to have even a hope of catching the many glancing, half-caught references, parodies, homages and various deconstructions that it is so full of.
The program notes that ‘This is not a flamenco piece’, and this is definitely true, although those who go into it looking for an introduction to the form (which might be supposed given its reference to basic rhythm) will not get it. Instead Quesada, wearing a red velvet jacket in apparent reference to flamenco traditional dress, as well as the matador, and Vakulya, bare to the waist, take the confrontational, violent, and immediate aspect of flamenco, the source of its unique and fadeless fascination, as their guiding principal. Music stops and starts, along with static and bursts of noise, and half-made-up, Quasimodo-ish attempts at graceful familiar shapes are attempted but constantly break down.
Occasional bouts of roundelay twirling lead to nothing, and as they build are only interrupted and send the dancers scurrying to catch their seats before the music cuts out. They often fail. The knife-edge quality of flamenco is evoked, its evocation of danger. Famous singers and songs are heard for only seconds, or even looped, but the frustration is palpable – there is a desire to go further, to go beyond into the true and unrestrained flamenco whirl, but it is never reached. In the traditional Andalusian form a sense of violent, desperate straining against the finality of both death and life is always present, a longing for the transcendental, and this inevitable failure is part of flamenco’s beauty. Quesada and Vakulya have choreographed a piece that delves into this incompleteness, and the fear at never overcoming it.
That is not to say that there aren’t moments of grace, as well as more electrified pieces of violence. Perhaps the piece’s most memorable moment is the point at which the Zakulya warbles an attempted saeta, the deep everyone associates with the dance’s musical accompaniment, and Quesada abandons his steps to slap him repeatedly on his bare back. This is flamenco not so much investigated as interrogated, the ineffable pain of the cante jondo(deep song) translated into raw physicality.
There are many things like this to admire through the piece, although in the end it does end up feeling a little too much like a collection of ideas – intercutting, sometimes repeated, sometimes going on a little too long – than a single, progressing arc. And if you don’t know at least a bit of flamenco, you’d better study up first.
Runs until 5 April 2019 | Image: Contributed