To Victor With Love was presented on Sept. 25 at the Waterfront Theatre in Vancouver, B.C.
The atmosphere was intimate in the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island, B.C., on an unusually warm Saturday, Sept. 25. As the house filled up for To Victor with Love (with one seat’s distance between groups, and masks on for good measure), many hugs were exchanged.
The performance by Flamenco Rosario was dedicated to Victor Kolstee, a guitarist and central figure in Vancouver’s flamenco scene, who passed away this June. In 1989, Kolstee arrived in Vancouver from Spain with Rosario Ancer, and they opened Centro Flamenco School, founding the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival that same year. Together, they contributed immeasurably to the West Coast flamenco scene and established Flamenco Rosario dance company, where Ancer remains artistic director.
To Victor with Love features a handful of short works by Ancer and guest choreographers Pilar Ogalla, Albert Hernández and Cristina Hall. The performance also features visiting singer José Lumbreras “El Chele,” guitarist Caroline Planté (both from Montreal) and local percussionist Davide Sampaolo. The collective passion displayed by the performers, and an emotional undercurrent of loss and memory, binds the evening together.
I come to flamenco with an uninformed eye, but I can tell you that it’s a language that seems driven by tempo – a tempo that moves like a waterfall, continuously flowing and changing. Standing downstage right in a clean suit, Lumbreras opens the first piece (Ancer’s Solace) with a bone-shaking, throaty tremolo, snapping his fingers or stamping one foot to keep time. Around the stage, the performers are taut, ready – two dancers sit on red boxes and two others stand in spotlights. Pink or gold tassels hang from their layered black dresses, catching the light with the slightest movement. When the drumbeats start, the dancers’ hands twirl and spiral, hitting each accent exactly in time.
It’s easy to get swept up in flamenco – in the powerful femininity of the dancers’ poses and the immediacy of their movement responding to the musicians. When one dancer is left onstage with the band and they pass energy back and forth, the tension becomes palpable. Lumbreras stands, directing his song towards her. She matches his energy by spinning to hit a firm shape, then melts into a luxurious back bend, fingers articulating.
Two shorter, more contemporary duets fill out the middle of the performance. In Simbiosis by Hall, dancers Meghan Asher and Charo (Chien-Ai-Tsai) wear oversized white dress shirts and light-grey leggings. Finding angular shapes with their upper bodies, they teeter on one leg or take quick steps around each other. As the work progresses, their keen awareness of each other forms a strong bond of mutual reliance, though their expressions seem oddly vacant. In La Sombra by Hernández, black-clad dancers Katia Flores and Yurie Kaneko dive into back bends, black fans held between their teeth, before launching into a fiercely femme choreography, their fans rattling like shakers. The work ends with an act of resistance: the dancers take off their layered skirts to walk them proudly offstage.
An equally pleasurable experience is watching the band members respond to their own music. Their moving torsos, shoulders and short exclamations of Así se baila and Oléseem to give the audience members permission to move and respond too. There were many hands tapping and heads bobbing throughout the theatre.
The performers are in their element in a final group piece by Ogalla, with dancers in stunning blue and pink long-sleeved dresses with long tassels. They clap, turn, stomp and pat their bodies in time, breaking into diagonal duets and broad smiles. The energy between musicians and dancers here is infectious, building to a final moment like arriving at the crest of a hill and stirring up a burst of applause as the lights dim.
The show ends on a heavy note with Ya No Estás Más A Mi Lado Corazón (You are not by my side) by Carlos Eleta Almarán, played soulfully by the band. Onstage, Kolstee’s guitar sits under a spotlight, backdropped by a projection of him and Ancer performing together. When Ancer’s recorded voice rings out with a final message, “Victor, amor mío … We found each other once before; we will find each other again in eternity,” I don’t think there is a dry eye in the house.