Melbourne Festival – Voces

Sara Baras VocesIn her homeland Spain, Flamenco dancer Sara Baras is a ‘cultural icon’. She’s toured the world to share her lifelong passion for the art form. As a Lead Dancer, Choreographer and Artistic Director of Voces, Baras made her devotion apparent to the opening-night audience, the dancers guiding us by the hand – or dragging us by the scruff of the neck – into richly textured emotional realms.

Those having only a passing familiarity with Flamenco (such as myself) will know of its energetic percussive dance steps. This only begins to describe some of the opening sequences. Feet pulsing against the wooden stage produced barrages of rat-a-tat, like machine guns or rolling thunder, the sonic energy unexpectedly spiking my adrenalin.

To vary the programme (or just give racing pulses a rest) we were also shown a more introspective side of Flamenco. This supported one of the show’s aims in illustrating Flamenco as a living tradition that takes in outside influences.

Voces translates as ‘voices’, and another aim of the performance was to pay tribute to Baras’ Flamenco mentors, rendered in line drawings on panels at rear of stage. Hearing husky old men talk in Spanish about Flamenco (I presume) didn’t help my appreciation of the variations we were about to see. Whilst the programme has transcripts from these masters, my pre-show reading of this was too far separated from the relevant dance bracket to be useful.

Everything else though was thoroughly professional and engaging. Costumes were striking, varying from more traditional outfits, such as the skirts of the female dancers that amplified movement, to modern garb to remind us of Flamenco’s continuing importance to Spanish culture.

Hamer Hall is a large venue, and some of us might have been better able to appreciate subtleties of posture and facial expressions in a more intimate setting. However, mostly this was no real impediment to enjoying performances. The Corps de Ballet varied their rhythms and formations, some becoming abstract, or concluding in tableaux that had a startling – even haunting – dark shading.

Whether resolute or ecstatic, Baras commanded the stage in her solos. In a scene that could have been in a town square before a confrontation, Male Principal Dancer José Serrano exuded confidence and machismo. When the two danced together, the desire, even unbalanced lust, of their characters was apparent.

Keeping Voces buzzing along was a magnificent collection of musicians and vocalists. Flamenco guitars steered the mood, pauses heightening the sense of drama, strumming evoking the exuberant or melancholy. Blurred hands of percussionists ramped-up the energy in the rapid sequences. Despite the language barrier, the singers brought longing and resolve to their interludes.

On hearing that The Age had $25 Swift Tix for Voces, my guest said “That’s basically theft.” She was right; those who took a punt and stamped their way to Hamer Hall were greatly rewarded. Voces is an irresistibly visceral tour of the many-stranded world of Flamenco with broad appeal. Standing ovations that couldn’t wait for the end were testament to that.

Melbourne Festival – Voces
Hamer Hall – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Friday 21 October 2016 – 7.30pm
Season: 21 – 23 October 2016

Image: Sara Baras in Voces (supplied)

Review: Jason Whyte