Here’s Liz Gunn with her latest report from WOMAD 2015 in New Plymouth:
Day 2 of WOMAD dawned to a clear and crisp Taranaki sky, and the heat was soon building.
There is an equal warmth to the WOMAD crowd. And the second day always sees numbers peak. Since all 2015 tickets have sold, yesterday could have drawn a potential 35,000 people , although some choose to come for only one or two of the three days. Surprisingly, even in the face of such vast crowds, the WOMAD venue in the stunning Brooklands Park seems to just quietly absorb the numbers. It never feels too much although the food areas, with their mouth-watering range of anything from Indian to Turkish to Spanish to Raw Food, can be a little queue-heavy at times. But when it comes to the music, you can always find a spot .
Saturday 1 pm Brooklands Stage
I wanted to see this group of artists from Seville and Melbourne up close, having had high recommendations about them from their late Friday show. At five to 1 , I was able to tuck in to a spot at the front and from that close range, I watched unfold a visual and musical treat with an intimacy to it that only WOMAD can offer.
Puerto Flamenco last performed here in 2009 . They received standing ovations then and they earned them again in this show.
There is a small line up who come on stage- one singer, one guitarist , one drummer on a box, and one man clapping the rhythms. An exotic raven -haired Spanish woman in a blue dress cascading in frills to the floor and with a huge fringed white shawl wrapped around her body, enters with head erect and body posture equally so. There is drama in the entrance as much as in the dance itself.
Her feet stamp and strut and the musicians keep an eagle eye on her, following the lead of her rhythms, calling out their approval of her, smiling themselves at her focused and powerful energy. When she very soon starts to twirl and the fringes of the shawl start to dance in the air around her, I feel as if I am lost in watching an elegant , energetic bird doing some kind of mesmerising mating dance . The fringes of the shawl as so long that as she turns, they resemble a bird’s wings pre-flight. But if I can pull my eyes away from that to her feet, they are as frenetic as her upper body is held in place. The feet are the key and the guitarist , whose skill is sublime, barely takes his eyes off her rhythms. I love watching his fingers racing over the strings and he often strums hard in time with her louder foot stomps. And the hand drumming on the box , or the hand clapping , or the eerie singing which echoes the Moorish influences on Spanish music, all help to create a rich mixture of music and dance that enthralls the Saturday crowd.
Watching her physical power, I wonder at times if flamenco dance is one of the most visually arresting dances in the world. It is a sensual feast – the rhythm, the strong guitar, the foot stomping, the Arabic influence in the minor -key singing, the beauty of the twisting hand movements of the dancer , and the hand claps. These are dances of the desert night under huge skies, taken to Spain and formalized but still retaining a throbbing wildness in the movements.
I love the hand clapping, from those soft, cupped hands to the hard straight fingers and a different sound to the fast and steady claps. There is a lot of interplay among all five members of this group, much of it joyful . The crowd picks up on it too and the passion and vibrancy seems to bring everyone alive.
When the woman re-enters in now a rich red dress with black shawl, the male clapping with the musicians suddenly joins her , with a stance as erect as the toreador he is emulating. Power meets strength, she in traditional flamenco garb and he in black jeans, waistcoat and suit jacket. They take turns to dance and seem to at times challenge and beguile each other. The man next to me whispers ” I wish courtship was always this exciting”.
Once the duel dual ends, the man is left solo on stage. His precision of movement and contained power is impressive. The eyes of the musicians again follow the intricate footwork. He is so focused and joyful in his execution that the capacity crowd salutes him, and the whole ensemble , with catcalls and cheers.
Another winning WOMAD performance from Puerto Flamenco.
Saturday 6 pm Gables Stage
This performance follows up on their Auckland concert reviewed last week here on the 13th Floor by Margie Cooney. For details on their style, click here to read to that review.
Suffice to say here that the crowd was in awe of the way their traditional Celtic sound could suddenly morph in to New York sophisticated jazz , partially thanks to an extraordinary pianist. There was a wonderful musical sensibility in this group.
I love watching a pianist who is so lost in the music being created, that he leans in to the quiet notes , or arches back from the keyboard as the notes soar. It’s transporting . So, too, was the lyrical singing. And the charm factor came from the funny story telling and great interplay with the crowd.
They charmed and beguiled the WOMAD crowd.
– Liz Gunn