Monday, July 15, 2013

Flamenco at Midday

Yesterday at 1 pm the western slope of Ron Basford Park on Granville Island (the one facing Performance Works) was filled with Vancouverites looking to add a little Spanish spice to their summer. We were treated to this and more courtesy of the local dance troupe Karen Flamenco, who were performing as part of New Works' 2013 "All Over the Map" series, which is presenting free music and dance with a global flavour on successive Sundays at this outdoor spot.

Accompanied by guitar, percussion and stunning vocals, Artistic Director Karen Pitkethly's troupe of nine female (including herself) and one male dancer treated us to a succession of choreographed and improvised sequences, all of which doubled as object lessons in flamenco technique: the importance of rhythm, precision of movement, verticality of bodily alignment, tightness and speed in turns, etc. Of course, everyone is mesmerized by the clacking heels. However, I am always drawn to flamenco dancers' arms and hands, to their graceful and fluid floating upwards even as the beat gets faster and more furiously staccato, always ending with the blooming floreo of the fingers as they unfold and extend one by one. Such movements, when done expertly, always appear to me to be almost boneless and remind me of the repeated injunction of flamenco teacher Susana Robleda in the award-winning NFB documentary Flamenco at 5:15: "No elbows, no elbows!" That documentary made a big impression on me when my English teacher showed it to our class in Grade 11, and yesterday's performance reminded me of flamenco's role in the early formation of what we might call my "dance consciousness."

Clearly Pitkethly, who when not on stage sat with the musicians clapping out the beat, has given her own version of Robleda's instruction to her dancers, who together made up a pleasing mix of ethnicities and body types. Same goes for the audience, where there was some added drama when an elderly lady in the front row suddenly collapsed. Fortunately attentive fellow patrons sprang to action and an ambulance was called; by the time it arrived, the woman was awake and speaking. However, the producers rightly called the show, knowing there would be another performance at 3 pm.

"All Over the Map" continues next Sunday with Wen Wei Wang and the Silk Road Trio.


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