There is a dance-off going on at Sadler’s Wells, not to mention a sing-off and a strum-off. It is Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco Peña who has created this vibrant competition, pitting Spanish musicians and dancers against their Venezuelan counterparts.
Flamenco Sin Fronteras, the resulting show, is a vibrant, joyful performance which intertwines the flamenco traditions of Spain with the music and dance of Latin America and Africa, showing how each has fed off the other.
So we have two camps; on the right hand side of the stage, in black shirts, Paco Peña leads his band of guitarists, singers and percussionists in the rich music of flamenco, the three guitars lending a beautiful depth of tone to this technically precise, complex art form. Accompanying them are three dancers, precise and strict in their movements and rhythms, providing a virtuoso display of traditional flamenco dancing.
In response, on the other side of the stage sit the white shirts, a band of Latin American musicians who play a mix of African, Venezuelan and Peruvian compositions. Played on mandolin and cuatro rather than guitar, the music is more playful and delicate in nature, soft rather than bold. Dancing to their music is a lone woman, who, like the naughty younger sister of her flamenco counterparts, displays a less precise and more gregarious form of dance.
The two camps take it in turns to play and dance. Though they are different, each is as accomplished as the other and the competition is fierce. Nevertheless, in the second half, as they partake in a series of solo turns, the atmosphere is one of joyous mutual respect. The camps are united in their love of music and technical accomplishment and the audience responds to both, applauding each solo as much as the last.
Holding it all together is Paco Peña himself, who has two solo pieces during the show. The second sees him sit amongst the Venezuelan camp, giving his own musical tribute to the guitarists of that Latin American nation.
The show can only end with the two bands coming together in a harmonious combination of their entwined traditions.