Review: FLAMENCO FESTIVAL: LA LEONA, Sadler's Wells

An original, brave artist baring their soul

By: Jul. 12, 2023
Review: FLAMENCO FESTIVAL: LA LEONA, Sadler's Wells
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Review: FLAMENCO FESTIVAL: LA LEONA, Sadler's Wells Sadler’s Wells' Flamenco Festival really is a festival. As in the programme includes a wide range of approaches and possibilities when dealing with the genre. It makes the relevance of flamenco in 2023 something to ponder - as there's clearly an interest, and different generations of creatives very much involved with the ongoing dialogue. 

Enter Olga Pericet with her "avante garde" solo show La Leona (The Lioness). The work is described as a combination of theatre and dance…so dance theatre? And promises to communicate a "dialogue between animal and instrument". The flamenco/music correlation isn't anything new…so what is Pericet potentially offering that adds to the conversation?

Envy is what she's offering. The envy of observing an original, brave artist baring their soul - and desiring that level of talent and experience. 

Before I try to do Pericet justice, I'd like to pay homage to her five musician (one singer) counterparts. Just wow - the skill, atmosphere and involvement they brought to the table is rare. It also says a lot about Pericet for selecting this absolutely top notch group. Their playing conjured so much ambiance - and not all of it located to the Iberian peninsula. I was transported to Brazil, North Africa and Persia. Just epic. And to hear flamenco melodies played with the gravitas of the electric bass guitar was otherworldly. 

To Pericet. A simple way to explain La Leona is to divide it into 4 solos: 

The opening finds Pericet shrouded in a large blanket/shawl. When unveiled she's a complicated animal; bare-chested, loose hair and wearing some form of balaclava made from tights with heavy-handed maquillage applied onto it. She evokes Leigh Bowery going through a Kabuki phase. The movement is minimal, tortured and primarily floor based. At first I wasn't sure…but then it all started to fall into place. Pericet is the vagabond of flamenco.

Solo two sees Pericet in trousers and jacket with hair scraped back - very Weimar-esque. The movement begins slow and presented and then veers off into different styles, and refreshingly utilises lots of space. I saw Fosse-infused jazz, swing informed (Twyla) Tharp passages, and all the time Pericet plays with isolation of the body and deconstruction of conventional phrasing. Towards the end she whips the musos into a samba frenzy as she playfully tussles manes of hair in her hands - a leona reference?

The third solo begins to the sound of rainfall and Pericet mimes as a headless mackintosh. When she appears there's castanets, and she begins to serenade her guitarist and audience. Castanets do wonderful things to the shaping of hands and arms. Expressive movement becomes even more so, and the subtle tension can be felt in every corner of the theatre.

The final section sees Pericet unveiled in the world's biggest, pink tulle flamenco dress and adorned with cutouts of the guitar's body. The avante garde in Pericet means she's in fact wearing the dress backwards, and plays with the illusion of dancing in reverse with a guitar for a head. Once this experimental moment has passed, Pericet disrobes and begins to dance in a simple, cotton underdress. This pattern is something of a motif in her work. The creative exploring flamenco to the absolute edges of feasibility - the dancer finding centre and expression in the core vocabulary and technique.

It was a truly unforgettable performance. One of those nights where theatre is more than you could've possibly imagined - when art becomes an unquestionable facet of life. If I ever find myself in the same place as Pericet again - I'll make sure I see her perform. No question. She says La Leona; I say La Original. 

The Flamenco Festival continues at Sadler's Wells until 15 July

Photo Credit: Paco Villalta




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