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Joan Sullivan review: Fiery flamenco heats Festival of New Dance

Screen grab from "Volver"
Screen grab from "Volver"

The Festival of New Dance, the 28th (wow) annual showcase of contemporary dance from across the province and across national borders and beyond, opened September 30, featuring Raíces y Alas Flamenco’s “Volver.”

The Vancouver-based company, or “Project,” as they dub themselves, fuses the traditional with contemporary, inclusive choreography — its name means “roots and wings flamenco.” This show was their N.L. debut.

Flamenco comes from Southern Spain. The term has several possible origins, including “fire,” no surprise to anyone who’s seen this dance, all passion and swirl-of-a-ruffled-hem seduction. It can be accompanied by various instruments, often guitar, but a dancer may also supply their own soundtrack, with castanets, finger snaps, and hand claps.

Even modern versions are earmarked with signature gestures and presentation, stamping feet and splendid bearing, even as the costumes and movements leap and evolve to encompass and accommodate larger motions.

Flamenco is a style of dance many people might imagine when they think of “ dance.” Elegant, costumed, disciplined; somebody’s playing some music. A little exotic. Unlike a ballet, or even the tango, it is often presented by a soloist.

“Volver” translates as “to return.” Andrea Williams, is from Newfoundland and Labrador, but is now a choreographer, performer, and artistic director with this troupe. She and partner Michelle Harding, a dancer and teacher, created the piece over a weeklong artist residency in St. John’s.

First up were their students of the past four days, a dozen or so in individuated black dresses with touches of red, in a sash or a hairpiece. With a male trio on guitar, percussion, and vocals, they were in ebb and flow tandem in a crescendo of footwork and arm movements.

Then their teachers, Williams and Hardings, appeared, in their jet dresses and shoes of sturdy élan. Williams had introduced their work by noting that “flamenco dancers tend to feed off what the audience gives them,” and shouted feedback became part of their score. Their dance began, with shawls and with fans, like rippling water and arcing wings.

Pace is integral to flamenco, and the different styles are determined by rhythm (some musical beats are only found in flamenco).

Perhaps not co-incidentally, the Spanish also have a specific reference term for art: “duende.” It (loosely) translates as having soul, a bona fide seriousness and  evocativeness that connects to (and possibly transforms) the viewer. Flamenco is a dance of experience.

 “Volver” was performed at the Masonic Temple, but the rest of the program, October 3 -7, is at the LSPU Hall, with 8 p.m. curtain. (“Volver” now tours the province and Williams and Harding will lead workshops in Gander and Corner Brook.) The Festival resumes on October 3 with “Solitudes Duo” from Daniel Léveillé. There are also window dances, in free view to all passers-by, at Johnny Ruth and The Rocket Bakery, both on Water Street, October 6. NDW Executive Director Calla Lachance promises the schedule includes “a really interesting mix, with lots of beautiful creative ideas.” For more information see festivalofnewdance.ca

Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine.

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