Review: Quimeras, Paco Peña, Edinburgh Playhouse

Pena’s Quimeras makes a case for the enrichment of humanity through cultural exchange.

The great flamenco star Paco Peña is deeply concerned by the treatment of African migrants who seek a better life in Europe. His political and humanitarian concerns form the basis for this world premiere of Quimeras (meaning chimeras or figments of the imagination), which interweaves the work of Peña’s famous Flamenco Dance Company with sub-Saharan African music and dance.

The show attempts to make its political case by way of recorded speeches and a stage narrative which involves Spanish, Ghanian and Nigerian musicians and dancers. In one moment, we hear an African migrant talking, movingly, of the privations which led him to leave his homeland. In another, two pairs of dancers represent the face-off between hostile Spanish immigration officers and frightened African migrants. Finally, in a recreated flamenco restaurant, the barrier between Spanish patrons and African waiters breaks down as they teach each other their distinctive dance styles.

This is very heartfelt, and the exercising of Peña’s conscience is, surely, vastly preferable to singer-songwriter Morrissey’s recent, and rancid, denunciation of the entire Chinese nation as a “subspecies”. However, one can’t help but feel that there is an uncomfortable fit between the emotional nuances of flamenco and the definitive statements of political commitment; Peña might have done better to make this particular argument as a newspaper columnist, rather than an artist.

This said, the dance itself – by turns flamenco and high energy African movement (performed, mainly, to drum music) – is superb, and Peña’s own guitar playing is, as always, breathtakingly beautiful. However, one might question the great man’s decision to contrast the emotional complexities of flamenco with high-tempo African drumming and dance. A collaboration with one of Africa’s leading exponents of string music – such as Mali’s Toumani Diabaté, master of the kora (West African harp) – would be a more tantalising prospect.

Ironically, this piece is at its most politically resonant, not when it is making an explicit point, but in the concluding moments when the exquisite movements of European and African dancers make their own case for the enrichment of humanity through cultural exchange.

Rating: THREE STARS

This review was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on September 6 2010.

© Mark Brown

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