Flamenco star Israel Galván enchants at Sadler’s Wells

Born into a flamenco family, Israel Galván was soon master of the arts of the traditional tablao — feet that could pound and purr; a lithe torso that swoops into quebradas like the curl of a whip — but the Seville-born virtuoso yearned for new worlds to conquer and founded his own company in 1998. Dubbed “the Paganini of Flamenco” on these pages for his dazzling command of space and rhythm, he is also its Picasso, forever deconstructing the classical form in surprising and exciting ways.

His 2019 solo La Consagraciòn de la Primavera uses the dazzling two-piano reduction of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring score supplemented by a Scarlatti sonata (K87), Frederic Rzewski’s 1980 piano duo Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues and a new composition by musical director Sylvie Courvoisier: a bold but entirely successful sound salad. Originally devised by the composer to accompany rehearsals of the ballet in 1913, the percussive fury of the four-handed transcription gave the piece a life of its own on the concert platform. It was superbly played on stage on Friday by Daria van den Bercken and Gerard Bouwhuis. Their demonic assaults on their Steinways were a fine foil for Galván’s soliloquies.

The interlocking grand pianos dominate the left-hand side of the unadorned stage and the rest of the space is littered with the boards, plinths and platforms required for the dance. Galván wears his trademark long black shirt teamed with natty white ankle boots and a single black pop sock — a far cry from the traditional bailaor’s elegant costume. He begins by whetting our appetite: tapping out an intermittent taconeo on a tiny platform. There is a languid, strolling sway to his arms and upper body but his feet are operating in another gear, firing off random volleys of sound. At times he surrenders to the rhythm, his stamping foot mirroring the crash-bang-wallop of the pianos, but he can slip without warning into a contrapuntal quarrel with the music, compounding Stravinsky’s fiendish polyrhythms with mad measures of his own.

Galván uses different surface textures to create his sound effects © Filippo Manzini

Each dance sequence takes place on a different surface and the percussive mix is scrambled and complicated by a sprinkling of grit which squeaks and grates beneath his feet, sending up little sandstorms of resin as he works. All the while his fingers snap, crackle and pop around his head.

Only a seasoned flamenco divo could produce such effects but Galván’s performance was wittily studded with cheeky quotes from other traditions that are glimpsed like the skewed features in a Cubist portrait: the “let’s dance” mime from classical ballet; the paddle palms of Nijinsky’s Faune; the upthrust arm of Travolta and a preening, Jagger-ish strut as he pouts his way across the stage.

Dance minutes can be weirdly elastic. When Brazil’s Bruno Beltrao presented his New Creation at Sadler’s Wells three nights earlier an hour had seemed like a lifetime. Galvan’s 70-minute tour de force seemed to fly by. I never wanted it to end.

★★★★★

On tour, israelgalvancompany.com


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