Review – Manuel Liñán: ¡VIVA!

London, 22 June 2022

The minute Manuel Liñán’s ¡VIVA! finished its second and final show in the London Flamenco Festival, the audience jumped up from their seats, loud clapping filled the air, and sounds of “bravo” and “viva” echoed all around the theatre. Standing ovation – as described in the textbooks.

Although ¡VIVA! was part of the planned 2020 London Flamenco Festival, it is only now Londoners could see the show, following two years of Covid culture absence. What a magnificent start to the festival!

The concept is unique. 7 men dressed in -what is today considered- female dresses and female shoes, dancing -what is today considered- female dances using -what is today considered- female movements.

Why?

Why not!

Flamenco being a very traditional art form has its roots deep in the old days when roles were binary, outfit and dance styles were given. Until Manuel Liñán came along and questioned it all.

Why a man cannot dress up in a skirt, put on a wig, wear make-up and dance a female dance without being judged? What’s wrong with it? What are we afraid of? What does it matter?

Well, in my opinion it doesn’t. We live in an era when we need to push the boundaries and must question everything. We must question what may have been considered in the past the right way of doing things. With the climate crisis upon us, so many things proved wrong, what we and our ancestors thought was the right way forward over the past 100 years. Even if we won’t change the world in the next few years, the absolute minimum we must do is to start questioning everything.

These seven dancers guide us through a variety of flamenco types, bulerías, tangos, alegrías, even Spanish dance with castanets! They take us to the squares of Spanish villages where people use to live their every day lives, sharing stories, dancing together, quarrelling. Sometimes comic, sometimes slightly cabaret like, but throughout the performance very powerful and meaningful. The dance has high standards; they are all professional dancers, so you’d sort of expect good technique and footwork. What makes the show rise above average flamenco shows is clearly the concept, and also the artistic side. They do a fantastic job in impersonating female characters, showing the world men can also dance with bata de cola and manton.

I also feel worth mentioning what Manuel Liñán is like as a leader. In a show under one’s name, you’d expect the person to be the main character, dance the most, wear different coloured outfit while the dancers all wear the same etc. Well, this is what you normally see in flamenco shows under the leadership of one individual. Liñán is different. In his show, they either all wear different outfits or they all wear the same. In his show, all dancers have their moment to shine. They all have their individual piece performing alone, besides the many choreographies they dance together. Liñán has an individual piece at the beginning and at the end, but it’s not disproportionate compared to the others. For me, this is equality, and I’ll go one step further, humility. Manuel Liñán. Remember the name. Dancer, choreographer and team player.

In the documentary the New Yorker made about the show (link in my previous post about the show), Manuel explained that as a boy he dressed up in his mother’s dresses hidden, away from the eyes of the world. The time of hiding and masking is over now. The show ends with all of them removing their dresses, wigs and make-up, letting the world see the male bodies and they dance for a minute as men do, with the male movements and gestures. Because they can do that too. And why not?!

Brilliant work. Brilliant concept.

Manuel, you are a visionary and I hope you can bring the show to many countries to make us all reflect on who we are and celebrate it.

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