As a boy, Manuel Liñán used to love to try on dresses and dance in them at home, something he had to hide from his bullfighter father. He started performing in flamenco tablaos as a teenager and flamenco’s rigidly defined gender roles didn’t invite his dress-wearing either. But at 42, the award-winning dancer from Granada is finally able to fully embrace his inner bailaora.
In this opening show of 2022’s flamenco festival, Liñán and his supporting cast of six men perform in full-skirted dresses, wigs and makeup, embodying flamenco’s postcard image: froufrou frills, shawls, bata de cola skirts and castanets. They dress like their mothers, or grandmothers even. And sometimes they dance like them too: the gutsy matriarch hitching up her skirts and showing everyone how it’s done.
The most obvious comparison across dance genres is with the Trocks, the all-male ballet company who perform in tutus and pointe shoes, and are greatly in thrall to classical tradition. The Trocks do more out-and-out comedy, and while Liñán does bring in humour, and certainly playfulness, there’s more of a sense of seriousness and personal expression here.
Each dancer is individual, different in body-shape, in the tilts of their hips and shoulders, in their style and panache. Liñán makes sharply defined movements and projects a stillness even when his arms are continually snaking. The seven of them take their turns to expunge motion and emotion from their bodies, often like a passionate rant, as if saying “And another thing! And another thing!” Long phrases building to a climactic, triumphant, “So there!”
There’s an emphatic, unbridled energy; the sense of just having to get something out. ¡Viva! feels like a show about things that can’t be bottled up, things you can’t pretend you don’t feel – whether angry, wounded, ecstatic – things you want to share. There’s a great sense of community, between the dancers, the on-stage musicians and the audience too. You can tell that this really means something to Liñán and that’s powerful. You could always view the exaggerated emotions and personas of flamenco as performing a character, yet at the same time great dancing is an honest expression of your truest self.