It’s a common misconception, at least among those unfamiliar with the genre, that flamenco is a style of dance. With its fiery red costumes, precise footwork and sensual choreography, it’s no wonder flamenco dance gets the most attention. But dance is just one aspect of the flamenco art form, which also includes traditional song and instrumental music. And all three are on vibrant display in the latest offering in The Dance Centre’s Discover Dance! series, featuring Kasandra “La China,” a Vancouver-based flamenco specialist.
Alongside singer Maria Avila and guitarists Peter Mole and Josué Tacoronte, Kasandra has curated a three-piece program that offers a cursory overview of the genre. The brisk 25-minute recording also includes a brief interview on her work as artistic director of Mozaico Flamenco.
Wearing a ruffled yellow dress voluptuously adorned with a myriad of floral prints, Kasandra begins the first piece, Tangos del Titi, rhythmically swerving her hips as Mole percussively beats the body of his guitar. It’s a restrained start. The energy and passion that most associate with flamenco dance are at a faint simmer.
But then, about a minute in, Avila flashes a cheeky grin, as if telling the audience, “Just wait and see what we have in store for you,” before giving an impassioned cry. It sparks a fire of energy that explodes onto the stage. Kasandra picks up her skirt and begins fervidly swishing it in the air as she spins around, her feet rapidly stamping the floor with rhythmic precision while Mole strums his guitar, generating bright open chords that act as the perfect backdrop for Avila’s warm belt.
The effervescent energy emanating from the three performers during Tangos del Titi is contrasted by the languid beauty of the second piece, Colombiana. Kasandra, now alone onstage, trades in that yellow dress for a simpler one. She holds various Chinese and Spanish fans — some of which have long silk tails that match the colour of her pale pink costume — and waves them in the air. They gracefully flutter around her head as Tacoronte’s meditative composition for solo guitar creates an airy cocoon that buoys the choreography.
Videographer Chris Randle does a fine job of overlaying several videos, one on top of another. In one scene created using his editing wizardry, he juxtaposes the floating fans with the pitter-patter of Kasandra’s shoes hitting the floor. These stunning visual effects are paired with well-balanced audio that wonderfully captures every crisp click and stomp in Kasandra’s complex footwork.
The final creation, Alegrias, is filled with much of the same energy as the first piece. The title, after all, means joy and happiness. The centrepiece of this dance is a large silk shawl, called a mantón de Manila, that Kasandra twirls around while sporting a wide grin.
Watching the wide-eyed Avila and Mole watch Kasandra weave her magic made me long to be in the same room as the performers. Flamenco is a participatory art form that is usually highly improvised and feeds off the energy of a live audience. I can only imagine the whoops and cheers Kasandra would have received after each zapateado sequence — those percussive effects made with the dancer’s feet — if this were an in-person showcase.
But rather than ending with a bang — with one of these enrapturing flamenco sequences — the show ends with a whimper. Following Alegrias, there’s an awkward five-minute interview between Kasandra and The Dance Centre’s Claire French where the pair briefly talk about how COVID-19 has impacted Kasandra’s dance studio, before giving a hasty overview of the three dance pieces. This interview really should have been placed at the beginning of the show.
But even then, for a performance that is part of a series that is supposed to introduce audiences to new genres of dance, the interview — and the show as a whole — is devoid of much information on the history of the flamenco art form. This may leave viewers without much background knowledge of flamenco more than slightly confused as to what they are watching.
Nonetheless, there’s much to admire in this short half-hour performance. Kasandra’s love for the art form shines through clearly, and her captivating performance pulls off what every showcase should do: it leaves you wanting more.
Mozaico Flamenco’s Discover Dance! performance runs online from April 15 to 28. Learn more >> thedancecentre.ca/event/mozaico-flamenco-2/