Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Alba Flamenca is an interactive evening which guides the audience through several different styles of Flamenco including alegrías, soleá, bulerías and tarantas. It is hosted by the charismatic Danielo Olivera who introduces each song with an explanation for us British folk which is detailed enough to be informative and brief enough to maintain the charismatic elusiveness that defines the world of Flamenco. The show provides an evening of passionate emotion which is so refreshing in the midst of our Scottish stoicism.
After a musical prelude, the group run through a varied selection of palos (styles of flamenco) which range from the vibrant and energetic alegrías which is light-hearted and joyful in its nature, to the sombre, at times heart-breaking, soleá which conveys a despairing sense of intimate pain. The show ends on a semi-improvised musical piece in which members of the group take the lead one after the other; guitar, flute, percussion, cante (song) and, of course, dance.
The guitarist (Andrew Robinson) gave a breathtakingly creative and technically excellent performance frequently stunning the audience into open-mouthed wonder. The host and singer (Olivera) was similarly accomplished, portraying (in a way only a flamenco singer can) the depths and heights of the human soul. His inclusive and friendly demeanour also allowed the audience access to what can sometimes be a very exclusive genre; the grating gitano emotion, so far from a British mentality, was not intimidating but liberating. The flautist (Jovis Fernández) added a spirited melodic accompaniment to many of the songs and also gave some moving, if somewhat saccharine, solo performances.
The dancers, as is often the case, provided the most eye-catching and captivating performances of the group. Saliha Maouachi was technically astounding; her stunning footwork, rhythm keeping and technical movements were wonderfully over-shadowed by her complete absorption in the sentiment of the music. Her highly passionate performance was so infectious that there was not one face left unaltered in the audience. Isabel Múñoz, usually a wonderful performer, struggled in the first alergías but soon returned to dance a captivating bulerías and several other spirited dances which included seductive fan work littered with flirtatious glances to the audience.
The communication between the performers, so crucial to flamenco, was most effecting. The usual “venga, vamos ya!” and “guapa!” were uttered encouragingly at one another. The intense concentration given by each musician to the dancers also added to the supportive and good-natured atmosphere.
This performance can most accurately be described in general terms; the nature of flamenco does not lend itself to cold analysis or a “break down” of its different parts. Rather it begs to be experienced first hand so that the duende (soul) of the genre can be felt as oppose to understood. Flamenco is truly universal; it appeals to fundamental human emotion and responses and, for that reason, is a cathartic and exhilarating experience. The Alba Flamenca group are experienced and brilliant musicians and performers and possess duende in abundance (most certainly including Robinson, the Scottish member). As a British critic I am acutely aware that many of the complexities and deep cultural intricacies of flamenco never be fully open me; indeed, even in Spain the deepest heart of flamenco is still jealously guarded by the gitano community. However, as an avid fan and experienced participant in flamenco fiestas I may have the audacity to review it for its intended audience. There were moments when the performers lost the glue holding them together and slipped up on the rhythm or melody. It was also tailored to a tourist audience which, although understandable, lost it some inventiveness or risk that may have added to its success.
All in all, this is a highly recommended show if only as a reminder to us northerners of the depths and beauty of the human condition. Although in comparison to other flamenco shows (especially in Spain) it has its flaws (somewhat over-simplified with the occasional lack of focus), Alba Flamenca is an intense, mesmeric and breathtaking evening which I highly recommend to all age groups and all tastes.