Israel Galván brings a showstopping performance to the Vancouver International Dance Festival

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      At the Vancouver Playhouse on Saturday, March 22

      You expect the unexpected and the cheekily imaginative from Israel Galván, and the flamenco star duly delivered a gobsmacker at the Vancouver International Dance Festival. The Spanish legend astonished the audience with his performance of La Edad de Oro, an intense 90 minutes of new flamenco dance, presented with singer Alfredo Lagos and guitarist David Lagos.

      The work showcased the trio’s impeccable teamwork. The intuitive understanding of the Lagos brothers was extraordinary to see and hear, and they were given plenty of space and several solo spots to shine. Galván was the lead attraction, however, and you couldn’t take your eyes off him. His sheer speed, the angularity and strangeness of his gestures, and the agility of his footwork were mesmerizing. Constantly shifting pace, flow, and direction, Galván was never frenzied, often wild, and always fluid. And best of all he was humorous, at times hilarious. The stream of ideas seemed endless, and while the choreography was meticulously worked out it felt unforced, even improvisational.

      After standing in a large rectangle of light in front of the silent musicians, Galván drew an imaginary semicircle on the floor with his outstretched right foot. For a couple of minutes he danced with no accompaniment save his own percussive feet, before voice and guitar joined in. The music was traditional, whereas Galván’s performance was tradition-based, but blended strong elements of ballet, and contemporary and ancient dance. He referenced familiar flamenco gestures, and sometimes sent them up—at one moment rapidly spreading the fingers of one hand behind his head, suggesting at once the fancy hair-adornment worn by women in more opulent productions, the opening of a fan, and a cockerel’s crest.

      Galván filled the stage with his presence. While he usually kept within the brightly lit centre of the stage, he also ventured into the penumbra beyond, playing to the wings. The production was stripped down, almost austere, while at the same time the mood of the performance was generous and good-humoured—as when Galván clasped his hip from behind his back and gazed out to the audience like a vamp.

      Alfredo Lagos’s singing was thrilling. His melismatic flourishes were long and intricate, and at times he seemed about to erupt with raw emotion, altering his delivery to better match the rhythmic cycle, the flamenco compás. At one point, he engaged in a powerful dialogue with Galván, which ended quietly with the two men simply shaking hands. To close another sequence, Galván simply floated one hand like a butterfly, or a piece of falling paper.

      This was new flamenco at its finest, and the standing ovation was instantaneous. Following tradition, the performers returned twice, stood downstage, and briefly attempted each other’s art with comic results, Galván singing tormentedly and David Lagos parodying Galván with tiny steps and the dancer’s signature gestures.