Theatre Review: Suenos – Graceful Guitar, Or Beyond Bailar

March 11, 2023




Suenos / James Grace, Carli Olivier & Compania Sophia Spanish Dance / Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg


To the untrained ear, much flamenco and Spanish classical music is of a type – all emotive, often energetic, sometimes heart-wrenching, but not often generous in revealing all of its layers and meanings (without help, at least). James Grace is a wonderfully calm and gentle tutor in introducing listeners to these and similar genres, steeped as he is in academic study of and long and celebrated experience as a performer of this music.

Introductions to musical luminaries including Augustin Barrios Mangore (a new name to most audience members; Grace had a poster of him on the wall while a student) and Isaac Albeniz give fans of this show happy homework to do, and reminders of the beauty of work by more familiar names (Stanley Myers, whose Cavatina has been part of the soundtrack of most people’s lives somewhere in the last four or five decades) mean that Suenos – Spanish for ‘dream’ – is both a learning and artistically enjoyable experience.

Grace is not a flamboyant player, but he doesn’t need to be. Even to the uninitiated, his playing is extraordinary – precision (for all of the often ridiculously complex patterns utilised, he doesn’t seem to ever play an even slightly duff note) matched with passion, and well-rehearsed in terms of how the melodies and cadences match or complement the steps of Carli Olivier and her flamenco dancers, and the more contemporary choreography of the dancers from WGRUV Dance International.

While Grace is central to the production as a whole, Suenos is very much a collaboration, with the guitarist and his mics, chair and footrest vacating the stage for regular intervals to allow for unalloyed focus on the dancers. Olivier and her dancers add complex, percussive polyrhythms to the music accompanying their movement, and add a powerful visual element in their magnificent dresses and accessories, all made from authentic Spanish fabrics. And the younger WGRUV dancers contribute to yet another layer with their contemporary ensemble work.

Technical expertise can often come off a bit cold, but everyone and everything about this production exudes a warmth that makes is a happy, positive experience as well as an exhibition of skills and talents lovingly nurtured over decades.