Israel Galvan: Fla.Co.Men review at Sadler’s Wells – ‘challenging, provocative, thrilling’

Israel Galvan: Fla.Co.Men at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Oscar Romero
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Israel Galvan is cooking on another planet in Fla.Co.Men. Flamenco’s most consistent deconstructionist, Galvan doesn’t so much disassemble the form as toss a fragmentation grenade into it and play with the pieces.

The stage is littered with with seemingly random props – a wooden chair or two, a bass drum, a white ceramic boot and a music stand containing a ‘script’. As Galvan flips the pages as if deciding what to perform it is clear that they are blank. The seven musicians and singers ranged around the stage lurch into life on his cue, delivering sounds that derive from cultures as diverse as North Africa and the American South. Lighting changes with the snap of his fingers or the wave of an arm.

The locus of this anarchy is Galvan himself, propelling himself around the stage in various modes – a wilful child, a macho man exploring his female side, an insect, an alien. And always there is the fricative chatter of heels and toes as he displays the dance artistry for which he is justly celebrated.

Sometimes the provocation stretches the patience as when he sits in the shadowed corner of the stage eating crisps; yet when he flings himself face down and headbutts the bass drum pedal before beating a tattoo on the floor with his toecaps it knocks the breath out of you. One sequence in which he leaves the stage and passes through the audience is conducted in total darkness. x-ray vision, perhaps?

He is responding not just to music but to sound – the click of his fingers, the rolling thunder of a heel-drumming gallop in a blood-red spotlight, the slap of hands on bare flesh, a keening wail like a seabird’s ghost. At least two of the musicians step up and perform pastiches of Galvan’s unique style – bending, posing, flipping their hands as if to make shadow puppets. He is not above self-mockery.

Like a collaboration between Luis Bunuel and Spike Milligan it travels beyond surrealism into the realm of Dada. It is challenging, provocative, funny, irritating and thrilling and I loved every minute of it.

Flamenco’s greatest deconstructionist is working way off the grid in his latest show