With a Fire Within
For the last few days I have been trying to find “the right words” to describe Ääniä Pohjoisesta – Voices from the North concert that was part of Etnosoi festival of 2018. Sometimes, however, there are so many thoughts and emotions that instead of finding the right thing to say, you have to write the words that are in your heart.
This concert was special because it was the release concert of Fuego por Dentro, the first solo album of the dear and much admired flamenco singer Anna Murtola and in fact of the first album published by a Finnish flamenco singer. And what a release concert! The evening started with an intriguing and fascinating performance by Vildá, a duo composed of Sami joik artist Hildá Länsman and accordionist Viivi Maria Saarenkylä. Their positive energy gave a special spice to the evening. While I am familiar with accordion music, I certainly was surprised by the versatility of joik and how well it plays with the accordion. Having seen Stomp in New York just two weeks ago, I was also awestruck by the duo’s versatile use of different kinds of sounds. So warm thank you to Vildá for this experience!
After a technical break, the stage was set for Anna Murtola and the musicians accompanying her. Having seen Anna Murtola on stage numerous times and having had the honor to dance to her singing, I knew great talent could be expected. With a voice that weeps and smiles and radiates, she enthralled us all. The group of musicians on stage generated their own kind of warmth and positive energy from Joonas Widenius Trio (Joonas Widenius, flamenco guitar, Karo Sampela, percussions and Hannu Rantanen, double bass) to visiting artists Hildá Länsman (vocals), Venla Ilona Blom (backing vocals), Stiliana Ravelska Tyrkkö (violin), Helmi Camus (piano) and Ali Haithem (oud). The concert grew from a kindling flame with the song la Llama, hit a colder front with the lyrics of Tápame and warmed again to the joyous sounds of a traditional alegrías and the soothing sounds of the touching lullaby Para los ojos negros. The first half ended with Earth second by Joonas Widenius Trio. In the second half the fireworks continued starting with a traditional improvised bulerías, followed by the incredibly beautiful tango Kuljen takaisin, a Finnish translation of one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite movies both named Volver. The title song of the album Fuego por dentro, brilliantly performed by Murtola, was sure to be bring tears to many eyes. It was followed by Bulería del Desenamoro, song of the ending love, and by the final song Sobre las palmas, translated to Finnish from the Arabic by langugage wizard Sampsa Peltonen and to Spanish by Anna Murtola herself. This song brought on stage the whole group of talented musicians to the joyful sounds of a traditional Arabic love song. After a well deserved standing ovation, Murtola returned to the stage to sing a capella the touching Andando sola and left the close to full Malmitalo audience feeling we had experienced something extraordinary.
This evening was full of fire and light and for this I owe a very special thank you to the artist. So, thank you Anna for your exceptional warmth and charisma that brings light to the darkest of November skies. It must be fuego por dentro – the fire within.
Summer in Spain equals Flamenco
Some might think that it is nearly insane to willingly travel to Spain at the hottest time of the year, but for me, the turn of July to August is the time of the best flamenco courses. For this reason, it is also the time to travel to Spain.
Having missed maestra Rafaela Carrasco‘s courses at the XX Helsinki Flamenco Festival in February, I was enthralled to attend her summer courses in Centro de Baile Jerez at the beginning of August. And she was every bit as wonderful as I had heard. A true professional with a deep understanding of the tradition of flamenco, she was able to teach us a not only the technique of flamenco but also a fabulous tangos de malaga choreography in five days. To describe her skill and warmth in words is difficult but to say that she is unique would perhaps do her the most justice. What a joy to learn from her, but also, what a joy to finally visit Jerez and to study in Centro de Baile Jerez, a school so well run by its owners.
In Madrid I returned to the prestigious and legendary Amor de Dios flamenco academy to attend shortly the fifth edition of Veranos Flamencos de Amor de Dios directed by maestros María Juncal and Alfonso Losa who I have had the pleasure to study with before both in Helsinki and in Madrid. To study especially technique with María Juncal is always a revelation with her strong feet but also a very feminine body work which is a skill I increasingly notice I need. Alfonso Losa with his pedagogical skill is always a pleasure to study with and we will see him in Helsinki again soon. I was also fortunate to study these few days with maestra La Lupi whose emphasis on the feeling of flamenco and understanding of music made her solea de Cadíz even more inspiring to learn.
Even though we are fortunate to study in Helsinki with fabulous teachers and to have frequent visits of Spanish maestros, I find it inspiring to study and see flamenco in its home country. To see and study flamenco in Spain is to see and study it in its own cultural context. Therefore it is also important for me to see tablao performances when in Spain. I am of course lucky enough to have as my traveling partner a husband who recognizes this need and is willing to assist. Therefore we saw flamenco both in Madrid in Tablao Las Carboneras and in Jerez de la Frontera in La Guarida del Angel.
Madrid has a vast array of renowned tablaos with talented performers frequenting them. Tablao Las Carboneras is one of them and we were lucky enough to see Nino de los Reyes – another flamenco star I have had the pleasure to learn from – performing with his wife Triana Maciel and other great performers such as Pino Losada in guitar. Although I was enthralled to see these great performers, I was especially touched by the spirit and the love between them. This is what is so essential to flamenco. Unfortunately we did not see this spirit in La Guarida del Angel. The performers were skilled technically but the love was not there. And when there is no love, there is no flamenco, just technical execution of music and dance. This was a great shame especially as La Guarida del Angel, an old synagogue, gave the evening such an amazing backdrop.
For setting La Guarida del Angel had one over Las Carboneras, but if you wish to see flamenco with a feeling, I cannot recommend a visit, especially during the tourist season in August. The case may be different during flamenco festival season, I urge you to go and see. When it comes to tablaos in Madrid, Las Carboneras was artistically every bit as good as Casa Patas, which I have visited before on numerous occasions. However, if you wish to have dinner or enjoy a few drinks, I do recommend Casa Patas for its more economic prices and amazing food. Having said that, with either one, you cannot go wrong. The talent will be there which ever you choose.
Batácora premiered at Tampere Flamenco Festival
The stage is bare apart from four figures, the bass player Dile Kolanen plays his instrument in the corner. There are three figures on stage wearing black bata de colas. Wait, three… this is supposed to be a duet… yet there appear to be three dancers on stage…
These were my initial reactions to Batácora, the duet of flamencas Maija Lepistö and Marja Rautakorpi, which premiered on Tampere Flamenco Festival on Friday 29th June, 2018. Moments later all became clearer as the piece advanced to rhythmic work on the black flamenco floor and the third person lying on the floor was revealed to be cantaora Alicia Acuña. And what a singer she was! Basing her work on the combination of voice and motion, she was constantly united to the movement of the bailaoras, a true collaborator to the dance, which was emphasized by the ingenious decision to clothe her identically with the two dancers.
The piece ebbed and flowed together with the fascinating bass, an instrument that is not part of the tradition of flamenco but complements flamenco so well, the simple but efficient lighting of light designer Ville Virtanen, and the strength of the singer who was more a part of a trio than an accompaniment to a duet. And what a joy to see these two bailaoras, Maija Lepistö, a much admired dancer and choreographer, and Marja Rautakorpi, a fresh, newer talent, as they showcased not only their incredible versatility but also the versatility of the bata de cola. Having seen both dancers in a more traditional setting at the Helsinki Flamenco Festival this year, it was delightful to see them show their more contemporary and experimental side. Both with flowing body work, I was this time enthralled and inspired especially by their effortless rhythmic footwork and the way they they worked as a duet, being at once strong individuals and part of a team.
Although one might think that the piece was quite short, approximately 30 minutes, I believe that true wisdom and insight was shown here by choreographers Lepistö and Rautakorpi as the audience was left wanting to see more. I for one am waiting for the next opportunity to see and be inspired more by this incredible team of artists! Thank you Batácora team for true inspiration!
Spring – the time of recitals
The end of May is a traditional time of dance recitals in Finland, and so it is in the “flamenco world” as well. This Spring I had the pleasure of enjoying “Fiesta de la Primavera”, the student recital of Anne Riikola-Sarkkila, Rodrigo Gonzalez and Anna Murtola as a member of the audience and to dance in “Cinco años juntos” a 5-year-celebration recital of the co-operation of flamencas and teachers Elina Robinson and Laura Rintamäki.
A Chat with Sonia Salmeron
This chat with flamenca Sonia Salmeron has been published before on the 1st of August, 2015 in Minna en el Mundo -blog. Although many things have changed for both of us since then and Sonia is not currently making flamenco skirts, many things still ring through about the importance of flamenco.
During my stay in Barcelona I had the pleasure of acquainting “freelance flamenca” Sonia Salmerón and to talk with her about flamenco and particularly flamenco in Barcelona.
Sonia Salmerón started dancing flamenco 10 years ago in Madrid and two years later decided to dedicate her life to flamenco. Since then she has returned to her hometown Barcelona and has a company called Kaliú Flamenco. The company distributes information about flamenco events in Barcelona and Catalonia and also produces events and courses for companies and private groups. Sonia also has a blog where she writes about flamenco and she makes beautiful tailor made, unique skirts with the label Moda Flamenca Sonia Salmerón. She has also taught and danced in New York, Japan and Rome. Sonia says the best thing about flamenco is how much it strengthens you, how much it gives back to you. It is impossible to “do” flamenco without being yourself and giving something about yourself. A “flamenco” gives a lot but also, at its best, gets a lot back in return.
However, Sonia stated that Barcelona lacks the sense of community between flamencos that is so essential to this art form. Barcelona is missing an institution such as Amor de Dios school in Madrid that would bring flamencos together. Naturally there is a lot of flamenco in Barcelona as in a big city there is something for everyone. Also there are a lot of people of Andalusian descent in Barcelona and in Catalonia and to these people it means a lot to keep the culture alive. In fact, Sonias family is also from Andalusia but she is the first flamenco in her family.
There are several tablaos in Barcelona, but the audience consist almost entirely of tourists. According to Sonia, this does not mean that there would not be good flamenco shows in Barcelona. The best and definitely worth seeing, is Tablao Cordobés, which has been located on Las Ramblas for 45 years. Sonia was also the one who told me about Tablao Casa Camarón, the tablao that I already wrote about on this blog. Together we wish this tablao the best of luck!
Flamenco in Barcelona
This text is from summer of 2015 when I had my first flamenco classes in Spain while living in Barcelona for two months. The text has previously been published in Minna en el Mundo on 28.7.2015.
On this trip I also got to experience what it is like to take flamenco classes in its original environment. Really exciting! From Cornellà de Llobregat, near Barcelona, I managed to find a school that had courses by renowned flamenco maestros during the weekends. My first experience with the school was quite astounding as when I arrived for the first class, I found that it had started a half an hour too early. Spanish sense of time upside down…
I took part in two so called master classes, short courses of two days. My first teacher was a really sweet and incredibly talented yound bailaora from Jerez, Gema Moneo. She taught us a really fiery bulerias, well, I don’t know if taught is the right way to say it… Maybe she showed us what she wanted and then we had to try to comply. Really not my strongest skill… but at least I got to practise that! The second course was taught by Alfonso Losa, who was at least a bit familiar from his course in Helsinki in March. Losa taught us three hours of bulerias on Saturday and three hours of tangos on Sunday and a bit of technique in the beginning of each day. The material was typical Losa, I felt like I should have been moving into three directions at once. However, the persistent technique training from the spring paid of as Losa did show me that my technique was quite good although there is a lot of work to be done with my speed.
I did not manage to learn or memorize a lot of material from these two courses but the most important thing was that I had the courage to go and that I survived in really tough company in a completely unfamiliar surroundings. I learned once again how much I can already do and, on the other hand, got a reminder of how much there is still to learn. But, I have the rest of my life to learn! And the most important lesson was that it was not the end of the world that I did not learn everything. In fact, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I hadn’t managed to learn any material at all!
Flamenco is hot in Helsinki
The Helsinki flamenco community is an active one and it seems that this Winter and Spring have been especially buzzing with flamenco. We have enjoyed a vast array of performances varying from the very traditional to extremely contemporary. Helsinki Flamenco Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary with nine events within nine days with Compañía Rafaela Carrasco as headliner with its celebrated “Nacida Sombra“. Apart from “Nacida Sombra”, which was greeted with a standing ovation, the festival featured an Opening Club with performances from aficionados, the 8th Children and Youth flamenco biennale, dance courses by Rafaela Carrasco, an open public event of flamenco music “Flamencoa Stagella” at a central library, Finnish evening with Joonas Widenius Trio and the Décadas – Flamencon voimaa – concert, a preview of Impulso, a document of the work of Rocío Molina (showing in collaboration with Espoo Cine and Korjaamo Kino) and a Brindamos Finlandia closing club in collaboration with the Brindamos collective.
Apart from the festival, this Winter and Spring we have been able to enjoy of the traditional tablaos organized by the Brindamos collective, both Brindamos Flamenco featuring artists from Spain and Brindamos Finlandia featuring artists from Finland. On the more contemporary front, Compañía Kaari & Roni Martin premiered in March their new piece Anna Karenina with their trusted artists, the beautiful and expressive Mariana Collado as Anna Karenina and the charming and skilled Carlos Chamorro as Count Vronski , and a very interesting appearance by a Finnish contemporary dance legend, Jorma Uotinen,as Count Karenin. Kaari Martin‘s choreography, Atro Kahiluoto‘s dramaturgy and Roni Martin‘s interesting music together with the skilled dancers made for a great experience. Furthermore, the Katja Lundén Company performed the celebrated Flamenco Saunaperformance this week, a piece that premiered in the 2017 edition of the Tampere Flamenco Week.
I have been fortunate as, in addition to having been a part of the production of the festival as the Chair of Helsinki Flamenco Association, I have been able to participate in many of the events produced in the Helsinki flamenco scene. I enjoy the traditional tablao performances of the Brindamos collective whenever I can and was a delighted member of the audience of the skillful Anna Karenina with my husband and Flamenco Sauna with my mother. For this blog post I have chosen to write a bit more about Flamenco Sauna as the concept of combining the quintessential Spanish flamenco and equally quintessential Finnish sauna is quite an interesting one. The piece starts with the accordion music of Kimmo Pohjonen, entwined in a mystical feeling as the dancers Katja Lundén, Sanna Iranta, Johanna Komppa, Elina Nissinen, Laura Lahe and Laura Viding enter the stage one by one. Quite soon, however, the mood is changed to the more relaxed atmosphere of a girls’ night in a sauna, maybe in a Finnish lake scenery or in a traditional public sauna in the Kallio district of Helsinki. Each viewer can make up their mind on this. However, the feeling of friendship carries through the whole performance.
The piece represents Katja Lundén’s a bit quirky, contemporary style with very interesting and cool rhythmic sections but also lets each dancer bring forth their own personality and strengths. It is obvious that the group is very comfortable working together and, due to this, the material flows. Katja Lundén’s mastery of her own choreographical style is beyond par, but I am also impressed especially by the relaxed, yet precise use of the body of Sanna Iranta and Elina Nissinen. One of my favorite moments in Flamenco Sauna is the juerga-style tangoswhere each dancer showcases their own style freely. Especially heartwarming moments are the towel tangos of Laura Viding and the bucket tangos of Elina Nissinen. Flamenco Sauna also gives room for other forms of expression and I was delighted by the slightly humorous monologues by Johanna Komppa and the beautiful singing of Laura Lahe. Overall, this is a very enjoyable piece where the black stage is accentuated with the simple linen dress of the dancers by Erika Turunen, a dress so suited to the imagery of a sauna. A dress also that stands on its own but does not take away from the intrigue of the music and choreography, producing a quite harmonious entity.
As an aficionado and student of flamenco whose aim is to constantly learn and understand more of this fascinating art form, I find it essential to see and hear different kinds of pieces and styles of flamenco. While I find traditional flamenco to be the closest to my heart – both as a dancer and a spectator – it is good to challenge myself with contemporary pieces, with different kinds of expression, to learn more. In Helsinki there is ample opportunity for this. Flamenco truly is hot in Helsinki.
Flamenco Visions @ Nukketeatteri Sampo
Only two days before the second birthday of the premiere of Imperfecto flamenco show, the Imperfecto Collective presents Flamenco Visions, a rendering of what the collective envisions that flamenco is – or can be – for them. The piece incorporates both new material and material from the Imperfecto show in the intimate, and a bit dreamy setting of the charming Nukketeatteri Sampo – a puppet theater – in downtown Helsinki.
Flamenco Visions brings to the stage a tablao setting of flamenco music, song and dance with Juho Koskimies in the guitar and composition, Anna Murtola in the vocals and Elina Robinson as dancer and choreographer. Christian Robinson is in charge of video design and together with Elina Robinson of the overall visual image. The rhythm is kept strong and clear by trusted palmeras Laura Rintamäki and Anne Riikola-Sarkkila and featuring supporting percussionist Christopher Rodulfo, a new addition the team. As is so essential to flamenco, the team works perfectly together, cheering each other on in the perfect moments and supporting each other in the fleeting moments of imperfection. It is evident to the viewer that the team enjoys working together and there is great trust between them.
Once again I was struck with awe with the talent of this team. The compositions of Juho Koskimies are at same time strong and fragile and he seems to be at his best when he lets the moment guide him. Yesterday we heard magical duende take over in the farruca of the second half. I must confess, there were tears in my eyes. Anna Murtola has a voice that I could listen to forever with incredible power but also softness where needed. The star moment yesterday – to my mind – was the tangos also during the second half, where the singer was standing and the dancer – Elina Robinson – danced around her, also a show of complete trust for and togetherness with each other.
The show has been insightfully constructed with video and visual design that stands on its own, but also does not overtake what is going on on stage. Christian Robinson’s strong style and the Robinsons’ cooperation brings forth stunning visuality, especially in the beginning of the show, where we can see Elina Robinson dancing both on the screen and on stage. Elina Robinson’s choreography flows with strong technique and beautiful lyric moments. In the first half we see both a technically and expressionally impressive rendering of the lovely, powerful, but feminine bamberas palo, one of my personal favorites at the moment. However, my favorite moments come during the second half with the above-mentioned tangos where there is a strong connection between co-flamencas and friends Elina Robinson and Anna Murtola, a piece that has previously been a duet with the equally talented Anne Riikola-Sarkkila, but now adapted to a solo. However, for me Flamenco Visions reaches its best moment in the end with Elina Robinson’s siguiriyas solo, a piece I counted I have seen 6 or 7 times, and becomes better with each viewing. It is clear that the piece has grown with the dancer and the dancer with the piece.
As I ponder on the fact that the already familiar Imperfecto material feels so much closer to my heart, I come to the realization that in flamenco it is often essential to see or hear pieces several times. With each viewing or listening, the piece is at the same time different but also comes closer to the audience. This reminds me of what the great flamenco artist and maestra María Juncal comments about her piece Quimera (as can be heard on Youtube at moment 4.53 of the linked video):
No es un traje que te puedes cambiar. Viene contigo todos los días. Y por eso creo que flamenco tiene tanta mágia, nunca estás de misma manera quando llegas a un escenario y ni siquiera a un estudio de baile. Tu sentimiento es otro. Tu corazón… tu cuerpo está revuelto de otra manera, sería…
It is not a costume that you can change into. It goes with you everyday. And this is why I think flamenco has such magic. Each time you enter the stage – or even a dance studio – is different. Your feelings are different. Your heart… your body is set up in a different way, it would be…
This is so true, I think, more in flamenco than any other art form (just my personal opinion). Flamenco is so strongly connected to the people doing it and the feelings that they are feeling, the way they body works that day, that each time on stage or in a dance studio is decidedly different. This is why I have seen Imperfecto four times and would see it again, and why for example Elina Robinson’s siguiriyas is magical the 7th time around, and will be so the 8th time, as well. As it is no secret that these artists are very close to my heart, I can only say that I am very lucky to have learned from them, from Laura Rintamäki the variation between the calm and the dynamic, from Anne Riikola-Sarkkila the importance of clean lines, from Anna Murtola the way to listen to the music, Juho Koskimies the daring to improvise and from the Robinsons the uncompromising attitude towards the visual. And Elina Robinson, my longest running flamenco teacher, well, so many things, but I think most of all, the daring to dance with your heart open. I also look forward to hearing much more from Christopher Rodulfo – and of course to seeing Christian Robinson dance the bulerías next time around. Thank you so much Imperfecto Collective and Flamenco Visions for touching my heart.
Of Embracing Imperfection
This text on flamenco show Imperfecto has been previously published in my blog Minna en el Mundo in April 2016. It has also been published in the magazine of Helsinki Flamenco Association, Letra 2/2016 as a column.
This weekend I went to see flamenco dancer and choreographer Elina Lehtola‘s piece Imperfecto at Teatteri Toivo in Helsinki. As the name suggest, the theme is the never-ending pursuit of perfection, accepting imperfection and embracing the beauty of it. The pursuit of perfection is a subject very close to my heart and the acceptance of imperfection one of “life’s big questions”. I have often wondered where does the line between excessive perfectionism and healthy ambition go, and how to do things well while still remaining merciful towards myself.
Flamenco in its technical and rhythmical complexity offers ample grounds for this kind of pondering. It must be an eternal dilemma, how to achieve a sufficient level of technical mastery and – as is so essential to flamenco – to stay a compas without the pursuit of perfection becoming an end in itself. In a group it is also essential to consider how to achieve an adequate level of uniformity while still giving enough space for each dancers’ unique expression and rendition. These are also questions with which we often balance in Elina Lehtola’s advanced level classes with the teacher and among the pupils. Elina Lehtola states in Letra, the membership publication of the Helsinki Flamenco Association that “a dancer must dance with an open heart and authentically as themselves (02/2016).” This demands great courage as it requires that the dancer embraces their imperfection and it also makes them vulnerable. Still it is this vulnerability that gives flamenco its power. It is this imperfection that makes flamenco interesting.
As I was thinking about this subject, I found a text from Eeva Kilpi:
There is only one principle: imperfection.
Who excepts it, has the strength to carry on.
I think this bit of poetry sums it all up: To find the so important inner force, for life and flamenco alike, you must be merciful towards yourself. When you allow your imperfections shine through, you can achieve something you never thought possible.
How does Imperfecto then succeed in this? After seeing the piece on two consecutive days, I can say: Imperfecto = perfecto. The intimate and suitably rugged Teatteri Toivo works incredibly well for flamenco. Brought into this context, the piece is perfectly constructed. The touching compositions and delicate guitar of Juho Koskimiesand the incredibly beautiful singing of the lovely Anna Murtola play perfectly together and this interplay is further strengthened by the sound production and bass of Javier Sanchez Perez and the percussions of Rafael Casado. The skillfully constructed videos of Christian Robinson and the lighting production of Petri Sarkkila work as a perfect backdrop for the piece. The choreographies by Elina Lehtola showcases three strong dancers, each magnificent in their own way. Insightfully the choreographer has also left room for expression and silences, and there is not one moment where the skillful performers are “guilty” of mechanical execution. The choreographer has also given her dancer colleagues Anne Riikola-Sarkkila and Laura Rintamäki the freedom of creating their solos as they wish, which gives them the chance to shine. Although all choreographies are great, the one that touches me the most is Elina Lehtola’s solo to siguiriyas where the combination of the beautiful composition, the incredible singing and the fabulous choreography and powerful rendition is simply breathtaking, a rendition which according to the dancer herself on Saturday reached momentarily the magical duende. The fleeting moments of imperfection and the performers’ daring to be vulnerable brings the performance even closer to the audience. In the end there is nothing more touching than watching someone do what they love.
Flamenco Travel is about immersion and the search for authenticity
Welcome to the new Minna en el Mundo – flamenco blog in English.
Having worked for a while now on this new, Finnish language travel blog Sol y Sombra, I received notification that Minna en el Mundo has been nominated place 24 on Blog Feedspots ranking of top 40 flamenco blogs on the planet. Therefore I have decided to keep writing my flamenco blog in English in the name of Minna en el Mundo as an incorporated part of my blog Sol y Sombra.
On this page I will continue to wonder on things related to flamenco and hope to see you here frequently!