One of the big questions when Dubai Opera opened at the end of August was whether there are enough lovers of culture in town to fill the venue, not only on the nights when the likes of Jose Carreras and the Broadway cast of Les Miserables (coming in November) are playing.
I think we can put that question to bed now. The venue is packing in crowds for its events, including on Thursday and Friday, when it was heaving with people clapping along to the thunderous dance of Spain’s leading flamenco dancer, Sara Baras.
There were but a few empty seats in the 2,000-capacity auditorium in Downtown Dubai; all the others were filled with concertgoers in their finery. Baras, 45, brought her show Voces (Voices), an homage to the greats of flamenco, the blend of dance and music that originates in the southern province of Andalusia. The show, choreographed by Baras, debuted in Paris in 2014, and sees the dancer performing with a five-member corps and alongside dancer Jose Serrano, who also had standing-ovation-rousing solos.
A typical flamenco performance also showcases guitarists, singers and percussionists — with handclaps playing a major role in the soundscape. Baras’ musical crew numbered eight, all clad in black suits, and greeting each other on stage as old friends, as if we were looking in on a private party, seated on the rustic wooden chairs that are typical of a flamenco performance.
Variations of rhythm
Portraits of the genre’s greats hovered behind them as Baras appeared, bathed in light and smoke. She’s fierce, in long dresses that swirl or shimmy around her; she lifts them up so the audience can watch, hypnotised, as her feet tap, tap, tap, tap, tap in endless variations of rhythm, knocking out a sound on the wooden boards that’s almost unbelievable. I occasionally had to remind myself that the clatter of her heels — always in time, always matching the handclaps or the beat from the crates that serve as drums — wasn’t a pre-recorded sound.
She’s dazzling, too, when she twirls, her body and arms cycling in a dervish-like fashion, or when she’s paired with Serrano, and the two stalk proudly across the stage, with arms defiantly wide, or fingers clicking. Then, suddenly, Baras becomes playful, engaging the audience with a smile, or she’s dancing alone, in black trousers, appealing to her musicians to sing something even more heartbreaking (singer Israel Fernandez especially, working sobs into his lyrics). This is not simply a show of fancy footwork — if you’re not feeling it in your soul, they’re not doing it right.
Programme price tag
Baras dispenses with the things you may expect from a flamenco performance — I only spotted one fan, and as for ruffled polka dot dresses and castanets, forget about it. She has now concluded her two-night run at Dubai Opera, but if the opportunity arises to see her, do not miss it. One thing to skip, however? Buying a programme at the Opera. My feet moved faster than Baras’ when I heard about the Dh40 price tag.