Paco Peña Flamenco Company: Patrias

Edinburgh International Festival Scotsman review (dance): Paco Peña Flamenco Company: Patrias at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Reviewed by Kelly Apter

[Patrias is a tribute to Lorca and the dead of the Spanish Civil War – picture: Colin Hattersley]

It’s hard to imagine Paco Peña playing a single note that wasn’t laced with passion, but new work Patrias seems to be a particular labour of love. A joint homage to poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca and those who lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War, the work comes from a place of deep respect and admiration – which is why it’s such a shame the staging struggles to do justice to the content.

Peña’s own masterful guitar playing holds you spellbound: the quick fingers, the sense of complete absorption and his ability to communicate pathos, love and excitement within the same piece.

Sitting alone during the brief first half, entitled Tribute, he manages to fill the vast Playhouse stage all by himself.

When joined by equally masterful flamenco dancers Angel Muñoz and Mayte Bajo, the silent but palpable connection between musician and dancer is powerfully understated.

After the interval, we’re thrown into a world of conflict. The sound of bombs and gunfire fills the auditorium, not from the stage, but from behind us, giving an eerie sense of no escape.

Sadly, little that follows has quite the same impact.

“Federico Garcia Lorca is, and will remain, essential,” says Peña in the programme notes – and the importance of Lorca, not just to Peña but to Spain, is clear throughout.

Archive film from the Spanish Civil War is interspersed with Lorca’s writing, or clever imagery (Lorca’s face slowly appearing, comprised entirely of text).

When those words arrive on screen one by one, however, forcing you to read them slowly, at exactly the same time as beautiful flamenco choreography is delivered on stage, our attention is pulled uncomfortably in two directions.

Peña has assembled a strong team of singers, dancers and fellow-guitarists to deliver this work, all of whom do their utmost to get beneath our skin. But dressed in muted shades of beige and grey, and poorly lit with little focus on the feet, they’re fighting against the staging, not with it.

One stand-out moment illustrates just what this show could have been. As war rages on-screen, a slow beat starts to build on the Cajon box drum, then come the hand claps and finally the heel stamps – until the whole soundtrack of war is created by flamenco rhythms. When they start to slow, it’s like a heartbeat finally fading away into the silence of death.

More moments like this, and Patrias would have been as powerful as its subject matter.

Originally published in The Scotsman

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