By Garth Martens
Flamenco derives from the south of Spain, a distinctly gitano or gypsy phenomenon with Moorish, Judaic, and Catholic influence. An innovative art form requiring practised improvisation as well as craft, it was passed down through oral transmission rather than sheet music. In fact, efforts to set it down on paper reduce its complexity. Flamenco’s rhythm structures are assertive, the singing voices rough as salt, and the dancing marked by intensities of emotion, the killer look, and sections of percussive footwork that rap like thunder on the floor. Dancers imitate manoeuvrings of the bull or the matador with dramatic arm gestures and little flores of the hands.Flamenco isn’t about looking sexy, but about passion: a passion inflected with anger, love, dread, cheekiness, grief, and pride. Always pride.
Six years ago, I began as a student with Alma de España, Victoria’s singular water-shed for flamenco dance, guitar, and cante, founded twenty-three years ago by Veronica Maguire and Harry Owen. My priority then was to study the singing and immerse myself in the rhythm as a palmero, someone who supports the basic accents, an articulate clapping, while the dancers or singers are free to weave their syncopations.
I was hooked within my first year of study, but only in the last year have I felt, for the first time, like a dancer. Some intervening blockage has slipped away so I learn the choreography much faster — my ear and my feet in alignment. As well, this discipline gives me personal sustenance, transforms a troubled emotion into a brightness, not by sweetening it or simplifying it, but through a rightful sweat. Many dancers I know admit to confronting inner obstructions in every new choreography. Some of them, to tune themselves to the particular piece, will draw on archetypes, images that ride within their bodies as they dance. Flamenco cultivates the vast inner multitude and favours the intricate over the reductive.
I’ll be working with Alma de España this winter in preparation for Pasajes, a major production slated for July 12, 2014, at the Royal Theatre. Canadian artists include Veronica Maguire (dancer), Gareth Owen (flamenco guitarist), JoAnn Dalisay (pianist/composer), and me(poet). Among those coming directly from Spain are Domingo Ortega (dancer), María Bermúdez (dancer), and Jesús Álvarez (flamenco guitarist). While this is Veronica’s personal story, it’s also mine and yours, resonant with shared passages of life, death, and regeneration. I’ve been contracted to write original English-language poetry, which I’ll perform live as part of the show. Advanced student dancers and singers, accompanied by guitarist Gareth Owen, will also perform in intimate in-studio shows in February, May, and June. I’ll perform in two of these as a dancer. Alma de España runs classes September to June at all levels in flamenco dance, guitar, and cante. For tickets or inquiries: 1.250.384.8832 / email@example.com.
Garth Martens won The Bronwen Wallace Award in 2011, a national prize for the best writer under thirty-five who has not yet published a book. His first book will appear with House of Anansi in April, 2014. You can hear him read his poem Dreamtime here: https://soundcloud.com/prism-mag/dreamtime-by-garth-martens.