Mixtape, by contemporary flamenco company Dotdotdot Dance, is a performance of four works: three dances, and a song by Lole y Manuel. Of the dances, the second, Alhelí la fea, was closest to traditional flamenco, being a ‘structured improvisation’ in which dancer Magdalena Mannion and singer Elena Morales responded to each other. Dressed in black, they stood close against the red brick of the back wall of the stage, interpreting the theme drawn from popular verse, ‘I’m like that old piece of furniture left against the wall’.

The evening proved that flamenco itself is certainly not abandoned or outmoded. Although not entirely successful, both the other dance pieces took flamenco beyond the innovative work of artists such as Paco Peña, by using its technical vocabulary and movement resonances to convey complex ideas about the world we live in. The Ugly Truth opens with dancer Noemi Luz centre stage and scantily clad in a slip of a dress gingerly walking towards the audience with painfully slow steps that work through each foot to the magnified sound of scrunching gravel. It is as if she is treading on egg shells, and trying not to be heard. Then she holds a wide green cloth in front of her, her eyes visible above it as if it were a giant yashmak, before with a swift swirling twisting movement she is suddenly wearing it as a huge flamenco skirt with a heavy train that seems to weigh her down as she dances and claps with cupped palms. Next, she is centre stage in an imaginary lift, rising up through the floors of a tall building as two assistants dressed in black hurriedly clothe her in a formal jacket and high shoes. She reaches her office, and with heels and toes uses the precise tac-tac-tac of flamenco rhythms to conjure up the metaphorical clatter of typewriters and other din that fills the female workplace. Finally, one shoe off, she limps away to the upstage left corner, her jacket bundled up in her skirt and carried on her head, bearing the burden of traditional and modern expectations. Although according to the programme this work was about consumerism and the environment, it seemed to me, above all, to embody the female condition in modern society.

The final dance, Re Red, was perplexing. Described as ‘a re-reading and re-interpretation of fairy tales and an investigation into the role they play in the collective experience of women in our society’, it was hard to disentangle the meaning from hints of narrative. I found myself over-thinking the dancing, despite its emotional intensity, by continually trying to recognise references to stories (Sleeping Beauty? Red Ridinghood?). Just what did it mean when a dancer lay with her legs and arms frozen in the air like a dead wolf, or when Luz, lying on her back, tapped out flamenco rhythms with her feet, and manoeuvred herself across the stage submerged under a huge red cloth? Did the dancers’ finger movements suggest evil witches, and was the chiming sound in José Tomé’s soundtrack an evocation of Cinderella at midnight?

This was, nevertheless, using a traditional dance form in a new and thought-provoking way, and we are immensely fortunate to be able to see such experimental work at the North Wall. Luz and Mannion are hugely accomplished dancers pushing at the boundaries, and it is exciting to witness the shift of an art form that has already extended its reach beyond the social into the theatrical sphere take a further step towards finding new ways of communicating meaning through dance.

Maggie Watson

6th March 2019