Theatre Review | An intimate show with universal symbolism

Let me start with a confession, I do not know much about flamenco. How little?

I know it looks passionate, but that the passion derives more from suffering and longing than sexual insatiability.

I know that the suffering was imprinted on the music, dance and culture of flamenco hundreds of years ago by the Gitani, the Romani people of Spain.

I know that the wooden castanets you can buy in Andalucían souvenir shops are about as authentic as anything sold in souvenir shops, and that they were only introduced to enhance the finger-snapping that is so characteristic of the flamenco music.

I know that recently the Spanish flamenco guitar-player legend Paco de Lucia died.

And I know that there are more flamenco academies in Japan than in its native Spain.                     

That, about, sums it up.

No, mine may not be the most nuanced assessment of the more technical aspects of María Juncal’s self-directed dance-theatre show.

Then again, how much do you really need to understand to be taken hostage by the power of her rapidly stamping feet – how can feet move faster than eyes? – or to be mesmerised by the twistings and foldings of her body into shapes of extreme tension and angularity. “Where will her body go next” became the leading question of the show for me.

Certainly it went where the light was. If the light didn’t come to her, she would just follow it herself. Though she feels comfortable in the spotlight, it is not where her 'safe spot' is. Bright and constantly changing colors, it is full of tension and change, and when Anne is scared, as she has good reason to be, she flees to the room divider-cum-closet where her parents’ clothes are hung and envelops herself in them.

Besides a stool that provides only little comfort, the divider is the only set piece, and Juncal makes smart use of the humble object, transforming it from a closet to a wall to a room to a stage to, what appeared to me at one point, even a train wagon. Granted, that last one may be my own projection. I was expecting and looking for a more linear treatment of Anne Frank’s story than María gave us.

The only aspect of the show that linked it to Anne was the notebook that she so lovingly embraced. There was no doubt, though, that we were witnessing the Second World War: Jewish badges, radio announcements and a vehement war sequence in which the movement of Anne’s body visualised the invisible bombs made sure of that.

On the one hand, it appears odd that one could conceivably leave a show entitled “Anne Frank” without having realised that it was about Anne Frank. On the other hand, maybe Anne Frank could only have such a forceful legacy because hers is a story rife with symbolism. Her name practically stands for childish excitement, self-discovery in the face of adversity and – most of all maybe – longing.

But these universal themes are abstract and cold until made personal, be it through words, music, or … flamenco.

Juncal’s show, and the music composed by Bacilio Garcia, who also plays one of the two guitars, is nothing if not personal – it is difficult not to be affected by the extraordinary mix of vigour and vulnerability that Juncal lays bare on stage.

At least, for María Juncal, unlike for Anne Frank, the story of longing promises to have a very happy ending: this girl is dancing places.

Anne Frank


Premiered March 16, continues until March 29