Caras del Flamenco: The different faces of flamenco
Last Friday we saw the Helsinki premiere of Caras del Flamenco, a production created by Anne Riikola-Sarkkila with a group of wonderfully talented flamenco artists based in Helsinki. The premise of Caras del Flamenco (faces of flamenco) is to introduce to the audience the versatility and diversity of flamenco with the means of music, dance, costume design and lighting. Flamenco truly has many faces.
The concert flowed between the many moods of flamenco, starting with the dark and mystic of the palo liviana. The nature of this palo was intensified by the cling of a metal instrument plaid by percussionist Pauliina Kauppila, the dark lighting by Petri Sarkkila, and the costume design which to brings to my mind a lady of the night. Having seen liviana performed by Riikola-Sarkkila and her students on numerous occasions, this was a fresh approach with the precise rhythmic work of the dancer and the new adaptation of Miguel Poveda‘s beautiful Si me vieras with the incredibly talented Anna Murtola in the lyrics.
Following the liviana, a wonderful contrast to the darkness was created with the alegrías performed in bata de cola skirts, flowery shirts and flecos by dancers Elina Robinson and Anne Riikola-Sarkkila with bright, colorful lights. From there on, the ebb and flow of moods and the nature of each palo was strongly present in the imagery of costume and lighting design throughout the whole production.
The versatility of flamenco was, however, not only evident in the strong imagery but also in the strength of the artists performing. In addition to the aforementioned liviana solo and alegrías duet, Riikola-Sarkkila performed two more solos representing her own strong style in both palos farruca and soleá por bulerias. I am forever amazed not only by the lyrical nature of her dance, but of her mastery of hitting the accents. In perfect contrast to Riikola-Sarkkila’s style was the powerful style of Elina Robinson represented in palos bamberas and tangos. These are palos that bring forth wonderfully not only the musical and intensily powerful footwork of the dancer but also the femininity and softness of her style.
As a dancer myself, I am forever interested in the styles of the dancers, but also am very much aware of the importance of the musicians. And what musicians they were! The amazingly multi-talented Rodrigo González was this time in charge of musical direction and the guitar, which he masters wonderfully. His tangos solo was both strong and beautiful at the same time. A wonderful match to Gonzalez’s guitar were the incredible vocals of Anna Murtola whose versatile talent was evident not only in her accompanying vocals to the dancers but also in her touching canción por bulería which was intensified both by the lighting of Petri Sarkkila and the lavender dance scarf carried by the singer. All this was complemented by the wonderful percussions of amazingly talented Pauliina Kauppila and the palmas of Laura Rintamäki, the rhythmic backbones of the whole concert. I must also mention the wonderful mastery of Kauppila, which was further brought forth by the incredible rhythmic fireworks of El ritmo, based in the palo bulerías.
If there still was someone who might have been wondering about the authenticity of Finns doing flamenco, this concert was a testament to the amazing talent and heartfelt love towards this art form and the admiration towards each other. Having seen these artists on stage on numerous occasions and in numerous compositions, it was wonderful to see how Caras del Flamenco was so clearly Anne Riikola-Sarkkila’s creation. From the costumes to the ebb and flow of the numbers and the lighting design of Petri Sarkkila, this night was hers and she had brought her trusted partners to share it with her.
Origen Errante: Two Cultures, One Experience
Less than two weeks ago, on one fine Wednesday in April, the historical Aleksanterin teatteri -theater in Helsinki was buzzing with slightly nervous excitement. This night was quite special, as Alfonso Losa, the well known maestro, teacher and performer was to perform on the same stage with one of our own, and his long time pupil, Laura Rintamäki, in a joint venture Origen Errante (wandering tradition). With him Losa brought to Helsinki two young musicians, flamenco singer Ismael de la Rosa “el Bola” and flamenco guitarist Antonio Sánchez.
From the very beginning, it was quite clear that this night was something to remember. Even though Losa and Rintamäki are maestro and pupil, on stage we saw two colleagues, two peers, whose mutual respect was evident. The night began with a joyful alegrías. As choreographer, Losa had mastered a piece that showcased two dancers with their own distinct styles, two points of view to the tradition of flamenco.
The distinct styles of the dancers could be seen as wonderful contrasts especially in the solos. The beautifully fluid hand, arm and body movements of Laura Rintamäki in tientos and her feminine tangos contrasted with the dynamic, masculine power of Alfonso Losa’s remates and llamadas both in his siguiriyas and his soleá. I, as the rest of the audience, was especially enthralled with the mastery of the soleá. The miniscule, precise movements of the opening letras had the audience holding their breath until the withheld energy exploded in a series of dynamic llamadas and remates which continued into the end with bulerias, a style Losa is famous for. What en experience, expected but unexpectedly touching at the same time.
Not only were the dancers wonderful but also the musicians were a gift that just kept on giving. The respect that the dancers evidently had for each other, carried on to the musicians as well. The communication and shared experience, which is such an essential part of flamenco, was tangible and the emotions heartfelt. Great care had also been paid to the selection of the pieces that were brought to stage. The beautiful taranta played as a guitar solo by Antonio Sanchez set the stage between alegrias and siguiriyas as well as “el Bola’s” fandango acted as a bridge between Rintamäki’s tientos and Losa’s soleá.
After Losa’s solea, the whole group took the stage again for jaleos extremeños as if to close the circle in perfect harmony to the beginning. I was particularly touched when instead of ending this festive style with an explosive set of remates, the dancers simply walked off together and saluted each other. The audience was enthralled and the standing ovation never-ending. This was what it was about, the respect, the emotion, the communication. The celebration of the essential of flamenco despite of point of origin.
Nordic Passion Continues: Oslo International Flamenco Festival
The first weekend of April, I, along with flamenco dancer Elina Robinson and flamenco singer Anna Murtola, visited the third Oslo International Flamenco Festival. The festival featured great performances including a flash mob, a show for kids and a fashion show and courses for dancers, singers and percussionists. The main attraction, for me at least, was Compañía Rafaela Carrasco‘s Nacida Sombra and the courses held by the maestra herself.
For us, the festival started with a rendition of Nacida Sombra at Riksscenen Theater. Having seen Nacida Sombra at the XX Helsinki Flamenco Festival in February 2018, I knew to expect greatness. The maestra herself and three young flamencas, two guitarists and two singers brought to the Riksscenen a complete work of art, accentuated by the four imaginary letters read by Spanish actress Blanca Portillo, whose voice to me was a perfect addition to the work. As before, I was struck by the charisma and warmth of Carrasco herself, as well as by her effortless mastery of the many aspects of flamenco. Especially heartwarming was her rendition of a turned-around-alegrías which began with bulería de Cadíz and ended with the traditional singer’s salida “tiriti tran”.
Again in addition to Carrasco’s charisma, I especially enjoyed the airiness of Paula Comitre‘s dance as actress La Calderona. I also marvelled at the chemistry between Rafaela Carrasco and her young dancers, an almost omnipresent Carrasco as Teresa de Jesús acting as a mother figure for the other three women of the Golden Age presented, the aforementioned María Calderón, María de Zayas and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Having enjoyed the show at Savoy theater in Helsinki, as well, the even more petite Riksscenen mainstage gave a sensation of intimacy that brought the performers even closer to the audience. The simple staging and elegant dress of the performers made the work complete and as in Helsinki, the standing ovation that continued on was well deserved.
Having seen this great piece of art the previous evening, it was mere pleasure to attend the courses of maestra Carrasco starting on the next day. Of the three dance courses offered, I attended two, the mid level technique course and the advanced level choreography course. The courses presented again the paradox of flamenco, it being at the same time the best and worst I know. The technique featured great exercises to keep practicing on and the choreography, a wonderful piece of siguiriyas was a true challenge but a great one. To be working with such a great teacher, precise, demanding but encouraging at the same time, is always a pleasure. The most thrilling moments were experienced on Saturday when the choreography class was held on the mainstage. To be working with Rafaela Carrasco on stage at stage lights with the maestra singing siguiriyas to you. These are the moments that give you the strength to keep learning!
Saturday was a day full of program, as in the evening we enjoyed a fashion show by Flamenco y Más from Seville where Elina also acted as one of the models and saw the Nordic-Spanish collaboration of Volver. Volver, an interesting array of many styles of flamenco and even some Norwegian folk music, featured dancers and musicians from Norway, Sweden and Spain. I especially enjoyed the precise and powerful dance of the two male dancers, David Montero and Antonio el Tabanco. This is the way to dance solea por bulería, with strength and passion. It was also pure pleasure to hear the great Bettina Flater, on of the few famous female flamenco guitarists, on stage and even more to hear her sing. An evening of surprises, to say the least. The evening ended with new friends at the theater before turning in to be ready for the last flamenco class with Rafaela Carrasco on Sunday morning. What a way to end a great festival!
Nordic Fire, Nordic Passion
Last Saturday in Helsinki there was a great opportunity to experience something special when the Imperfecto Collective presented its first ever Nordic Flamenco concert at Nukketeatteri (eng. puppet theater) Sampo. The concert brought together flamenco professionals from and working in the Nordic countries. On stage at the sold out concert we saw dancers Ann Sehlstedt (SWE), Elina Robinson (FIN), guitarist Afra Rubino (SWE), singers Hilde Karlsen (NOR), Anna Murtola (FIN), percussionists Christopher Rodulfo (AW) and dancer-singer-percussionist Rodrigo Gonzalez (MEX) . Bringing the whole show together was, to true Imperfecto flamenco fashion, the video art of Christian Robinson (GB).
It has often been said that the beginning (together with the ending) is the most important part of a show. Setting the stage for a Nordic collaboration was executed touchingly and powerfully with singers Anna Murtola and Hilde Karlsen performing together La Llama the opening track Murtola’s debyt album, Fuego por Dentro. From the very beginning it was clear that this duo was a match made in heaven as it is rare to hear such harmony of voices, especially as the singers were collaborating for the first time. “Feel the music before you think” said Christian Robinson’s video art, and this music was definitely worth feeling.
After the powerful beginning, the stage was set for some amazing flamenco art with dance pieces accentuated by music pieces opening with a tangos choreography that presented three equally strong dancers. Especially the precision of rhythmic foot work and the strong personal styles of the dancers made an impact. The tangos was followed by a touching interlude duet danced by Elina Robinson and Rodrigo Gonzalez which brought us to a more contemporary mood between the traditional tangos and Ann Sehlstedt‘s light, traditional alegrias. This was a truly impressive rendition, and I was especially struck by the dancer’s effortless use of her whole body, the rhythmic excellence of the escobilla and the femininity of the buleria de Cadíz.
The mood was once again changed by the beautifully rendered norse lullaby and rumba performed by singer Hilde Karlsen and guitarist Afra Rubino before the strong soleá por buleria by Elina Robinson, the founder of the Imperfecto Collective. Having seen Elina Robinson perform on numerous occasions, I am always struck by the strength of foot work as well as emotion. Having studied with this dancer, teacher, choreographer for almost seven years, there is also a certain satisfaction in recognizing familiar bits and pieces that I also have worked with. It is a true honor to see that the same material that she uses for her students can also be modified to fit her own solos. This soleá por buleria was an incredible rendition of a strong personal style, strong and soft at the same time.
To start the descent towards the end of the concert, Afra Rubino played a virtuos malagueña-abandolao to set the mood for another interlude with Rodrigo Gonzalez singing and Ann Sehlstedt dancing. The final piece of tientos-tangos presented the incredible skills of Rodrigo Gonzalez, a true multi talent. There is not much this amazing artist cannot do and during the Nordic Flamenco concert we saw him dance, sing, play cajón and act. It is always pure pleasure to watch the incredible foot work, the use of the body and the display of emotion whether of desperation or joy. As the tientos changed into a joyful tangos, Rodrigo Gonzalez was joined by Ann Sehlstedt and Elina Robinson to bring the evening to a full circle.
To end with, three things struck me as the most during this experience. Firstly, I once again enjoyed the clever and touching use of video to set the mood, to accentuate the pieces and to bring the whole piece together. Secondly, I was truly impressed by the space given to Rodrigo Gonzalez, a new addition to the Imperfecto family, and the visiting artists. To my mind this shows not only great respect but also great trust between the artists. And thirdly, I was awestruck by what an incredible collaboration can be reached by artists who share the love for the art. This level of work requires not only the willingness to work hard but also the willingness to bare your soul to not only your fellow artists but also to the audience. I truly hope that there will be more opportunities to present this show again, not only in Finland but also in other Nordic Countries.
Flamenco in my heart
For the past week I have been wondering what I would write about flamenco for the first Minna en el Mundo post of the year. This week we have been celebrating Helsinki XXI Flamenco Festival and for the first time in a few weeks, I have not been involved in the production. However, I have been on stage at the traditional Avajaisklubi, opening club, and a participant in the advanced level course of festival main artist, Angel Muñoz.
This past week has also shown me yet again how challenging flamenco is but also how incredibly rewarding it can be. Flamenco challenges you on many technical levels, endless hours can be spent on perfecting footwork, on learning to be part of the band, of staying a compás, in rhythm, and making your sound dynamic. Also, there is endless challenges in plastic handwork, perfecting pirouettes and using your body to be both fragile, soft, feminine and strong and precise at the same time. However, the greatest challenge of all is to the mind, on accepting the things that you do not yet know and at the same time giving yourself praise on the things that you do well. Considering how there is always things that you can do better, it is extremely important to pause to think how you have developed.
Last Saturday was the much awaited premiere of the second duet of Duo Sal y Azucar. Much time had passed from the start of our solea por bulerias choreography, not the least due to my unfortunate accident last Spring. We continued work on the project last autumn and were ready to bring the piece to the stage for the opening club. And what a joy it was! This project shows us time and time again what a teamwork flamenco actually is. With the choreographic visions and challenges of Elina Robinson, the beautiful falsetas of our trusted guitarist, Petri Lahtinen, the soulful voice and rendering of singer Anna Murtola and the countless hours of practice and communication with my duet mate Jaana Ollila, we were able to bring to the stage a well thought out, dynamic performance. As dancers we were incredibly touched by the warmth of the audience and the support of our band, consisting of the already mentioned Elina, Petri and Anna and the supporting palmas of Laura Rintamäki.
For me festival week continued with the advanced level course of Angel Muñoz, the festival main artist. Once again, flamenco challenged not only my body, my technique but most of all my mind. The greatest challenge to me is to realize that the most important thing is to believe in myself and try my best, to be willing to learn. Muñoz as maestro was very different both in teaching technique and material that I have been accustomed to, but what a generous and warm person. In the end, I did manage to once again find flamenco in my heart and realize how much I have developed to dance in this level. And that is the true reward of flamenco, to realize that you can always do better and with hard work you can achieve almost anything.
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!