Flamenco choreographer deconstructs dance tradition

Karen Lugo plays with the elements at Vancouver International Flamenco Festival

25th Anniversary edition of the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival, Sept. 11 – 24, various venues. For more information visit vancouverflamencofestival.org.

North Shore native Melanie Meyers is choreographing a busy Tuesday – corralling two kids aged seven and two at Science World, keeping on top of duties as a full-time instructional designer at the Justice Institute of B.C., and gearing up for performances in this month’s Vancouver International Flamenco Festival (VIFF), which kicks off Monday.

Her kids duly distracted with some hands-on exploration, Meyers finds a quiet corner to talk to the North Shore News about a pursuit that has captivated her since she was a child: Flamenco.

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“The dynamic part of it resonated with me,” Meyers says, “the passion and performance.”

Flamenco is an ancient Spanish art form forged in the diversity of Andalusia and influenced by Greek, Roman, Persian, Gypsy, Latin American, Cuban, Indian and Jewish cultures.

Made up of several key components – toque (guitar playing), cante (singing), baile (dancing), palmas (clapping), pitos (finger snapping) and compás (rhythm) – flamenco is a free-flowing form of dance that is widely open to interpretation. No two dances are ever the same.

“All elements play off each other, from the song, to the guitar, to the dancing,” says Meyers.

Her introduction to flamenco occurred in its birthplace, Spain, when her parents moved there from North Vancouver for work when she was three.

“I took Spanish dance lessons as a small child,” says Meyers, 42, who also built a foundation with ballet and jazz.

Flamenco was introduced to Meyers’ repertoire when she was about 12 years old. She was hooked.

When she returned to the North Shore for high school, and later, university, the Carson Graham grad studied under Rosario Ancer and her husband Victor Kolstee of Vancouver dance school Centro Flamenco, where she now teaches.

“I started (studying) with Rosario when I was 14 years old. She’s always been my mentor,” says Meyers, who has also danced, studied and taught in Montreal, London, New York, Madrid, Seville and Jerez.

Ancer is the founder and artistic director of the VIFF, now in its 27th year, which runs Sept. 11 to 24 at various venues.

She promises a “fiery line-up of some of the most innovative and revered flamenco artists of our time.”

In addition to headliner Fuensanta “La Moneta” (Sept. 23), Ancer’s Flamenco Rosario dance troupe will be performing (Sept. 22).

The festival will also feature Canadian flamenco artist Christina Tremblay (Sept. 20) from Quebec – “a fabulous dancer,” Meyers says.

Also on the bill is Karen Lugo, a flamenco dancer and choreographer who hails from Guadalajara, Mexico and is producing five pieces for the festival – three on her own and two in partnership with Flamenco Rosario.

In keeping with Ancer’s theme for this year’s VIFF of “deconstructing the art form and challenging the way we perceive flamenco,” Lugo is known for her fusion style and unique movements.

“I call it weird modern,” she says laughing during a phone interview from Tulum, Mexico, where she is putting the final touches on her choreographies for the VIFF. “I appeal to different tastes. When people think of flamenco, they think of clapping and castanets. But it’s evolving a lot.”

The 30-year-old is classically trained in ballet, but also brings the precision of martial arts and curiosity about other cultures to her work.

“Flamenco is a nice balance of soul and structure,” she says.

Lugo’s performances are a blend of precision and passion, with movements at times angular or flowing, and filled with telling trademarks, such as an sharply arched back or pronounced eye movements.

“The hands, they tell stories,” she says of her Indian influence.

During any given performance, Lugo says she draws inspiration “from everything, from the energy in the room, from life itself.”

When Lugo dances, “I try to be a channel, I try to be an instrument,” she says.

Like Meyers, Lugo was introduced to flamenco at Spanish school at a young age. When renowned dancer Jose Maya stopped in to teach, a spark was ignited.

“When I saw him it was like, ‘wow!’ It was a completely different world,” Lugo recalls.

“It shocked me, the way the dancers use the rhythm. That’s key for me, rhythm. I have a drummer inside of me, and when I dance, I let it out.”

At 17, Lugo decided to move to Spain and study the art form, and today, is able to travel the world and perform.

Her appearances with Flamenco Rosario at the festival (Sept. 22) will mark her second time in Vancouver, which she says is beautiful.

“It was a very, very huge surprise,” she says. “I didn’t expect to love the land, the people, on the level that I do.”

In fact, Lugo’s next project is an exploration of fusion between flamenco and the dance/rhythms of Canada’s First Nations.

“It’s a dream that I have.”

Meyers says the 2017 festival will have something for everyone, from aficionados to first-timers. There will be  pop-up performances, lectures, workshops and free lessons.

Best of all, “the festival provides access to these amazing artists that we would normally not have access to,” she says.

As well as performing and teaching at Centro Flamenco, Meyers has co-founded the Vancouver Flamenco Collective to make the art form more accessible to all. Check it out on Facebook or at Vanflamencocollective.com.

The two-week-long 2017 VIFF runs Sept. 11 – 24 at multiple venues in Vancouver, including Waterfront Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Scotiabank Dance Centre, the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, Vancouver Public Library, and Centro Flamenco.

Festival highlights are below. For more information, visit vancouverflamencofestival.org.

2017 VIFF highlights include:
Mixed bill:
liminal by Calle Verde (Vancouver) featuring Puro Sentimiento by Christina Tremblay (Quebec) Sept. 20, 8 p.m. Waterfront Theatre

Local favourites Calle Verde will be opening the evening with their performance of liminal, featuring guitarist Peter Mole, dancer Michelle Harding, and dancer and singer Maria Avila.
Calle Verde artists create their work from a transitional crossroads, where flamenco intersects with other genres such as rock, samba, jazz and Celtic music.
In addition to Christina Tremblay, a young artist from Quebec, liminal features music inspired by Brazilian artists Baden Powell, Lenine and Hector Villa Lobos.

Find de Fiesta: Liandolo (Toronto), Sept. 20, 8 p.m. Waterfront Theatre                                                                                                                       
Fin de Fiesta Flamenco is a vibrant music and dance ensemble comprised of award-winning artists from Europe and North America.
Based in Seville, Spain, Fin de Fiesta brings together flamenco dance, song, guitar, flute and percussion in a celebration of this Andalusia art form. Its members have toured the world (Japan, China, Mexico, Ecuador and the United States), and completed a 23-show national tour of Canada (outdoor festival venues and theatres).
The group features dancers Lia Grainger, Deborah Dawson; flautist Lara Wong; guitarist Dennis Duffin; singer, Alejandro Mendia; and percussionist Davide Sampaolo.

Flamenco Rosario: Nuevo, New, Nouveau (Vancouver) Sept. 22, 8 p.m. Waterfront Theatre                                                                                                                          
Artistic director and choreographer Rosario Ancer, in collaboration with musical director Victor Kolstee, presents a set of new choreographies by Karen Lugo and Ancer.
Madrid-based guest artist Lugo will be joined on stage by Ancer, Kolstee and Flamenco Rosario dancers Melanie Meyers (from North Vancouver), Afifa Eidher, Bonnie Stewart, Katia Flores, Megan Asher and Yurie Kaneko; singer Momi de Cadiz (Spain); and percussionist Alvar Rubio (Mexico).

La Moneta (Spain)
Sept. 23, 8 p.m. Vancouver Playhouse

Hailing from Granada, Spain, Fuensanta La Moneta possesses a deep expressive quality and a mastering of compás (the intricate flamenco rhythm). Her talent allows her to dance the most difficult styles as easily as she breathes. La Moneta consists of dancer/choreographer Fuensanta “La Moneta”; cantaors Juan Ángel Tirado and Sergio Gómez “El Colarao”; and guitarist Luis Mariano.

La Musica Del Flamenco: hosted by Victor Kolstee (guitar), Sept. 24, 8 p.m. Waterfront Theatre

Flamenco Rosario’s music director and guitarist Victor Kolstee hosts an intimate evening of sensuous and impassioned flamenco works, featuring the musicians of La Moneta company from Granada, Spain.


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