To his surprise, Martin Longley found himself in a dance school over the weekend.
Elmhurst School For Dance
Andalucian Jesús Fernández was both the lead dancer and choreographer for this two night presentation of his Cádiz flamenco production, at a venue that’s probably unknown to most Birmingham music freaks. The Elmhurst School For Dance is approaching its first decade of activity, and still has the gleam of newness to its portals. The performance theatre has a steep bank of seats, and a glove-like acoustic warmth, making a highly fitting home for an intimate music/dance evening.
Fernández kept himself firmly centre-stage for the duration, so the piece was crafted to display his own talents, with a surrounding cast (from Cádiz and Madrid) of a guitarist and singers, with a certain amount of doubling up on palmas (flamenco hand-clapping) and percussion. This was a form of gentrified flamenco, when compared to the usual straggly locks, open-necked shirts and surprisingly mobile beer bellies. Less hardcore, but this was no bad thing, lending a whole host of modern dance trimmings to the moves, becoming more theatrical, paying greater attention to a visual panorama, to the dynamics between subtle minimalism and outbreaks of more active climaxing. This was conveyed via a sensitive relationship between music and gesture, caught under sparse lighting, painted with precisely directed pin-points of illuminated action.
Fernández combined his detailed movements with a more earthy energy, mixing in some humour with the drama. The theatre’s sound system caught the voices, guitar and palmas in a well-balanced spread that still resembled an acoustic sound, though sensitively amplified. Performer positioning was constantly shifting, with a trio chorus standing in various locations, lit differently each time, and guitarist Jesús Núñez moving his tiny stool around to surprise the audience with a fresh set-up for each thematic segment.
The work possessed a very male-orientated perspective on flamenco, very much concentrating on Fernández as a central performer, sometimes directly in dialogue, both physical and verbal, with lead singer David Vázquez. Towards the end, Anabel Moreno revealed her dancing potential, having previously rationed herself with palmas and backing vocals. It would have been a good idea to have given her an expanded role, heightening the female contribution. She clearly could have handled such a shift in focus.