“But taken on their own, each facet is a fascinating watch”
We are a few minutes into the show when renowned Flamenco dancer Karen Ruimy name drops the late Phil Ramone. We’ve just witnessed a smoky rendition of ‘Black Coffee’ that percolates a heady, jazzy atmosphere through the auditorium. We realise, then, that this is an album launch more than anything else. The credentials are impressive. Youth, the founding member of Killing Joke, is the Musical Director, and there is no shortage of virtuosity from the band forming an arc across the back of the stage. Ruimy herself has an intriguing backstory to add to the mix. Born in Casablanca, raised in Paris, she learnt flamenco at an early age. Adulthood found her in the banking world before leaving that to pursue creative and spiritual ventures and continuing as a professional flamenco dancer.
Already an author as well, she adds humanitarian work and philanthropy to her portfolio. Truly a force to be reckoned with, Ruimy brings her steely charisma to the stage. It is not entirely clear, however, which part of her personality we are being asked to focus on. The hesitancy in the delivery suggests nobody is really in control and consequently the show becomes a bit of a free for all. Titled “When Jazz meets Flamenco” it depicts more of a chance meeting between the two genres rather than a combination. We feel they are ships in the night rather than a meaningful romance. They don’t even exchange numbers. The sultry “Stormy Weather” and “La Vie En Rose” barely glance at the fiery bursts of music and dance breaks that feel as though they should be hot footing it into another gig.
But taken on their own, each facet is a fascinating watch; with the flamenco gaining more of the match points. Ruimy is a little short on theatricality, and occasionally short of the power needed to give voice to the songs she has chosen, but her band of musicians and dancers are more than happy to take the helm. Francisco Hidalgo and Francisco Blanco give star turns as the Flamenco dancer and singer respectively; their movement and energy creating the sparks that ignite this performance.
The band certainly feed the flames of passion that the style evokes. Particularly the Spanish guitar which frequently takes centre stage while the backline shifts into the shadows. It is a shame that these moments then give way to a lack lustre “These Boots Are Made For Walking”. Again, we are reminded of the discrepancy of the styles rather than a promised fusion. A mix that sounds fascinating but is not realised. Towards the finale Ruimy concentrates on the traditional roots that are clearly dear to her. And to her credit she refrains from using the evening to plug the album that is being released alongside the live shows. For her it is a labour of love, and she communicates this with an aficionado’s affection for detail.
Two powerful forces are being brought together in “When Jazz Meets Flamenco”. But like reluctant solitary creatures they circle each other warily. The marriage is never consummated and ultimately the heady, explosive hit that the collision could give is slightly diluted.
“The artfulness of his use of physicality is fascinating”
The lights come up on a pitch-black stage in which a grand piano and pianist seem to hover, suspended. The pianist begins; we feel as though we’re seeing the start of a grand, classical concert. But here, as so often during 1mm Au Dessus Du Sol, all is not what it seems.
It doesn’t take long before the pianist – the astonishing Jean-Philippe Collard Neven, of whom more below – is joined by b-boy Yaman Okur, and any expectations of the night begin to be systematically shattered. Is this a breakdancing performance? Well, sort of. And with live classical music? Well, yes, but not as you know it. What follows is an astonishing and surely unique cocktail of what might seem wildly differing disciplines, pulled together into a whole that entertains and, perhaps even more surprisingly, genuinely moves.
The programme describes Okur as ‘an atypical character in the world of breaking’. You’d better believe it. The artfulness of his use of physicality is fascinating; we see what even the uninitiated will recognise as classic breakdancing moves, with shoulders popping and swagger to match, but against the background of the piano and handled slowly, deftly, by Okur, they become something languid or heart-breaking – or something laugh-out-loud funny.
And while Okur’s body, and what it can and can’t allow him to do, become the study of the night (especially a shatteringly powerful conclusion which sees him stripped and vulnerable, his bare back lit from above, each muscle taut and tired), he makes great use of his face in performance. Without words, he shares jokes with the audience and interacts with his pianist collaborator with great eloquence. He truly shows us a full body performance.
It would be a grave mistake to dismiss Collard Neven as just the pianist here, though. He brings so much more than that, and indeed he shares Okur’s delightful use of the expressive body, folding his long form around the piano and across the stage. He appears tweedy, buttoned-up – everything we might expect of a classical pianist. But we see him interact fluidly with Okur, at one stage placing barriers around him on the stage as he appears to writhe in pain in an act that could be either tender or controlling. Certainly, for all his reserved elegance, he controls much of the night; we see him stride past Okur mid-performance and play jarring piano chords that physically jerk Okur’s muscles, so we’re left unsure about how much agency he or any of us can ever have around our bodies in space.
The arc of the night shows us a lifespan before our eyes. At first, a childlike Okur mugs for attention in a classroom (a scene invoked simply by his acting and a single chair on stage), and plays for laughs. But his relationship with his body becomes more torrid as the hour wears on, with sounds clashing and jarring thanks to astoundingly clever use of a whole stage wired as an acoustic device. The curving ramp that at the start looks steely, invoking the skate culture so closely aligned to breaking, by the end becomes a burnished gold column, with Okur hovering angel-like above it. Mention must go to Barbara Kraft’s clever scenography and Bruno Brinas’ lighting design – both are simple but magnetic. As if Okur’s skills didn’t already seem to make him levitate, Brinas’ spotlights elevate him further so we’re shown moments of pure magic.
Like classical music? This is for you. Like b-boy moves? This, too, is for you. Like captivating, human narratives? 1mm does not disappoint.