Flamenco dancer Olga Pericet finds freedom amid frills
For Spain’s Olga Pericet, starting her own flamenco company two years ago was a scary move, especially given the ongoing economic troubles in her homeland. However, the charismatic dancer and choreographer knew that the timing was right for her. Pericet’s theatrical flair and the contemporary twist she brings to flamenco tradition won her the Artista Revelación (Artist Revelation) award at the prestigious Festival de Jerez, and critics acclaimed her as a rising star.
“I felt it was necessary at this point in my career to be alone, and performing solo,” she says, reached at a café in Madrid, and speaking in Spanish. “My flamenco is very personal, and particular. I don’t like confining it to what’s typical. Rather than breaking with the old flamenco, I feel I’m just presenting it in other ways.”
The 38-year-old Pericet, who brings her latest creation, De Una Pieza, to the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival, is an exceptionally versatile dancer who has mastered several disciplines. In Córdoba, where she grew up, and later in Seville, she studied flamenco, ballet, Spanish classical dance, and folkloric styles like bolero. But despite her range of skills and precocious talent, for many years Pericet had a hard time finding work.
“Sometimes it was due to my [petite] size and the fact that I looked younger than my age, at other times it was because I didn’t know the milieu well enough yet, or have the right contacts. It was no bed of roses, but it forced me to learn a lot of things, especially in theatre. And I never lost my determination or the deep love I feel for flamenco. When persistence bears fruit, it’s wonderful.”
One of Pericet’s most dramatic signatures is her dazzling display with the traditional flamenco mantón, or shawl. “When I was young I saw a dancer called Blanca del Rey perform with it in Córdoba, and to me it looked as if she was flying. She inspired me. I love to feel free, to fly like a bird. The mantón becomes an extension of my arms—it’s empowering, and very feminine.”
A mantón dance and another with the beautiful bata de cola (a gown with a long train) are highlights of De Una Pieza. “This is my second solo creation, and a small-format spectacle,” she says. “It’s like a mosaic with seven pieces. There’s a completely new dance, and a repossession of several of the most successful dances I’ve created for other companies and with other artists, given new settings. Also one from Rosa, Metal, Ceniza, my previous work. So it’s really varied, accessible, and very fresh.”
Pericet, who often plays with expectations and conventions, brings with her company a brilliant young female guitarist, Antonia Jiménez. “The musical side of flamenco has always been such a man’s world. I’m glad to change things a bit in this respect.”
Hispanic women predominate at this year’s flamenco fest. Madrid’s Maria Osende, now based in Halifax, brings her dance-theatre production De España con Amor. Mexico’s Marién Luévano presents her show Migración, and also performs with festival host Rosario Ancer in Flamenco Rosario’s new creation, La Monarca, inspired by the butterfly effect in chaos theory.
Pericet hails the new and hard-won freedom for women in flamenco. “In earlier times there were far greater limitations. Now flamenco is a bit more democratic for everyone, and I see great diversity and a high level of artistry. Some artists leave behind footprints, others confusion, but so it goes. This profession is about taking risks. You’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t do that, hold on to what it is you want, and bring it all to the stage.”