XV BIENAL DE FLAMENCO DE SEVILLA
Text: Estela Zatania
Dance: María Pagés. Dancers: María Morales, Sonia Fernández, Isabel Rodríguez, Anabel Veloso, Emilio Herrea, José Barrios, José Antonio Jurado, Alberto, Ruiz. Cante: Ana Ramón, Ismael de la Rosa. Guitar:José Carrillo “Fyty”, Isaac Muñoz. Percussion: Chema Uriarte, Paco Vega. Cello: Batio Hangonyi. Direction and choreography: María Pagés. Coreography farruca and zapateado. José Barrios.
It takes extreme bravery for an outsized superstar like María Pagés, to alter her artistic course. You not only risk alienating the legions of fans so arduously cultivated over such a long time, but of deforming your very artistic identity. When that change is made from a perspective of down-scaling, and with biographical intent (the handbill quotes her as saying “to slow myself down, get closer to the mirror […], observe and analyze myself at length”), you have to give the woman credit.
If Pagés is a good dancer, she’s an even better director, and possesses theater instincts for large-scale flamenco productions that compete favorably with the best specialists the field has to offer. But that overdose of talent has in the past led to certain excesses in the dancer’s recent work which had reached a degree of over-the-top ostentation, and even superficiality, that you left the theater feeling you had attended a fluffy Broadway musical.
In “Autorretrato” (self-portrait) there are still theatrical elements, but they are kept to a minimum, and at the service of the dance. The visual and narrative prop running throughout, is the mirror. From the soleá apolá that breaks the silence with the verse “The mirror in which you gaze will tell you how you look, but never will it reveal the thoughts in your mind”, to the playful mirror that follows the dancer around the stage and even “talks” back with footwork, or the omnipresent mirrors on stage, the message is clear: María Pagés means to use her art to let us see just who she is.
In this work, we see a kinder, gentler María Pagés, less showy, in other words, more artistically mature. In some scenes a rehearsal studio or dressing-room is depicted, but most of the references are psychic abstractions that evoke nostalgia, pain or joy, in a way that is more or less intimate, more or less intense. The inner life of María Pagés is captured for our perusal by the mirrors that face out to the audience.
As you would expect from such a proposition, María dances most of the numbers, a marathon of repertoire with costume changes included. Soleá, farruca, tonás…a castanet display from out of nowhere because it’s what people like… Then, suddenly, a typical tanguillo de Cádiz rap, which is also delivered by María. She’s no Mariana Cornejo, but makes an acceptable job of it. As is customary in this dancer, she overdoes the repetitious serpentine arm movements, especially at the beginnings and ends of the dances, and there are moments when she’s all elbows.
Tientos, a much underestimated form in which María finds plenty of room to explore, is ended with tangos de Triana and the Tarara song. The corps de ballet, one of the most disciplined in the business today, begins alegrías, and the star arrives on stage with a large breathtaking black and gold shawl which she brandishes fully open rather than folded in half to make the typical triangle.
“Autorretrato” is an entertaining and polished piece of work, if somewhat forgettable, and surprisingly conventional for María Pagés who has conditioned audiences to expect extravaganzas.