‘There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.’Robert Louis Stevenson
A lilting Irish voiceover begins and regales us with stories of how the gypsies travelled from the north of India through the Middle East and into Europe; we hear about the history of the king of the gypsies, how an ancient mirror was shattered into a thousand pieces and if you ever see a piece of a broken mirror – you should give it to a gypsy. The audience are guided gently through a loose migration tale via the lightly-dramatic narrative and three female solos in bharatanatyam, belly-dance and flamenco.
In a converted dance studio on a side street in Edinburgh, Alba Flamenca packed in a sold-out sixty-plus audience complete with rubbing knees on the back of chairs. With a minuscule 4m x 3m stage, red and black voiles covering the mirrors and lilac pelmets fringing the ceiling – if I were to describe it as intimate, that would be generous.
With the changing-rooms in close proximity to the bar, we hear the ankle bells before seeing Gabriela Albornoz. Walking through the audience to reach the stage to a pre-recorded Indo/Gypsy fusion soundtrack – we’re introduced to the Indian part of India Flamenco. In full traditional costume the dancer presented fifteen minutes of condensed codas, limited abhinaya and a number of leaden arm mudras. The stage size did little to aid her performance as there was little chance to spread and extend her limbs as she would have been grazing the walls and ceiling. Her eyes and face felt like she was stuck behind a film of treacle; it was a display and not a performance.
‘My purpose in performing is to communicate the joy I experience in living.’John Denver
As the journey moved from India to the Middle East we’re introduced to Iraya Noble complete with hip scarf, coin belt, zills (finger cymbals) and headband who approached the stage and struggled with the pedestrian crossover duet with Albornoz. This jarred her early rhythm in the opening solo choreography before growing in confidence with a fine use of the zills emphasising oodles of figures of eight; her abdominal isolation was as crisp as a popper – the genuine snaps embellished by the hip scarf and coins shifted our attention, gaze and ears from side to side.
However, we were in a house of flamenco and there is little need for extraneous details like set or lighting when the flamenco dancer Maria Del Mar Suarez comes to the stage. In a theatrical waft of her tasselled shawl I witnessed one of the most engaging and magnetic solo performances of any dance style. Accompanied by Danielo Olivera (cante), Daniel Martinez (toque) and a whole lot of jaleo (encouragement), she delivered a spirit, execution and an emotional connection with her choreography that was sharp, powerful and charged. Her pneumatic footwork was effervescent and the size of the stage accentuated her movement and drew focus towards her commanding presence.
Such a formidable dancer casts a long shadow and it underlined the gulf in ability when Albornoz returned for the finale when all three dancers and two musicians came to the stage for one last hurrah. India Flamenco was last staged at The Fringe in 2013 and three years on it’s a great evening of entertainment. Seeing the evolution of a form and how the different styles have adapted and taken ownership of the stomp, voice and body percussion is an entertaining history lesson with a little creative licence (as flamenco shares the kathak lineage from NW India/Rajasthan rather than the southern temple dance of bharatanatyam) and an exceptional Maria Del Mar Suarez.
‘The artistic image is not intended to represent the thing itself, but, rather, the reality of the force the thing contains.’James Baldwin