En El Tablao Flamenco portrays the era of the early 1940s, a time when America was given permission by General Franco to establish military bases on Spanish territory in order to facilitate access to Europe. As American soldiers were introduced to and influenced by Spanish culture, the flamenco art form became a crucial part of the energized Spanish city-nightlife.
The production opens with a typical bar scene in which a Flamenco soloist gives a grand opening on a typical wooden stage or ‘tablao’. Though impressive and enjoyable, its sheer length prevents the show from starting with the momentum one would expect. However, many other entertainment combinations follow and the guests become more jolly as the night wears on.
The highlight of Act One is the ‘Strangers Meet’ duet between Nkosinathi Figlan and Nicole Nuria Brown. Their movements – reaching towards one another from opposite sides of the stage – place emphasis on the things that cannot be, an emotion supported by the clever use of two separate spotlights.
The second act of En El Tablao Flamenco shows the party guests challenging one another as their alcohol-induced confidence continues to grow. Female dancers compete with one another using quick and fancy castanet rhythms, much to the delight of the audience members both on stage and in the auditorium.
A strikingly beautiful woman (Kim ‘Kiki’ Pretorius) then enters the bar and lights a cigarette, clearly seeking attention. Unimpressed, the barman tries to shoo her out of the door, but is angrily confronted by one of the woman’s admirers, resulting in a duel of conflict. The two soloists, Luvuyo Simandla and Ndumiso ‘Faya’ Tafeni, create an electrifying mood that is contagious to all. The stamping canes reflect the pride of the two men and their unwillingness to give in.
Pretorius is seen again in a solo performance: ‘La Farola – in the Light of a Streetlamp’. This moving scene portrays the war within herself, as she longs for her lover. One is reminded of the anger, pain, frustration, confusion and loneliness which war brings.
The entire company joins in for ‘Fin de Fiesta (Tanguillos)’. As a final scene, this could hardly be a better climax, with great precision called for – a daunting challenge for a big group as a simple misstep of the fast footwork can easily disrupt the rhythm. The result, when done as well as this, is breathtaking. Added to this, the La Rosa dancers are renowned for the delight they take in performance and En El Tablao Flamenco is no exception. The dancers’ pure enjoyment, though true their individual characterization – gives an added glow that transfers readily to the hearts and minds of the audience.
By way of denouement we are given a solo performance, as the joyous and tipsy guests leave for the night. Having had to clean up after his rowdy guests, the exhausted barman is the last one out. He ends En El Tablao Flamenco with a simple flick of the light switch, plunging the stage into darkness, the darkness of things unknown and yet to be…
En El Tablao Flamenco runs 14 to 23 February at the Artscape. Details here.