Flamenco is a tightly entwined marriage between dancing, singing, guitar and vocalizations. There is a lot going on between the performers and a new show by Kasandra Flamenco is about to take the complexity of those relationships one step further. Encuentros, which translates to “encounter”, flips traditional flamenco on its head by inviting Irish dance, tap, and belly dance into the mix.
Kasandra Flamenco is a new company founded last year by Vancouver veteran Kasandra “La China” Lea. It’s distinct from her Al Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy, a school she founded with Oscar Nieto in 2002, and in its first full-length show features international artists and home-grown talent who are renowned internationally.
Former Riverdance principle and Irish-tap talent Joel Hanna is back living in Vancouver after years spent abroad; classical Egyptian belly-dancer Ashley Kirkham is based in Vancouver when not on the international competition circuit; and flamenco virtuoso Ricardo Lopez from Madrid, Spain, dances all over the world and is a member of the contemporary flamenco company Compañia Rafaela Carrasco. Together in their respective styles, they join Lea in a percussive evening of solos, duets, and trios. Encuentros tackles timeless themes such as romance, seduction, love, and jealousy, but with a contemporary twist.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Lea describes how genres collide and where collaboration takes new form while describing one duet with Hanna. In it, she wears a long red dress, with an even longer, multilayered, train, known as a bata de cola.
“I’m dancing in a very different way [from solo work in the show],” she explains. “He charges my dress, actually jumping in between the lofts I’m making as I flip the skirt, which is like heresy in flamenco. He was like, ‘This is so logical to me,’ and I was like ‘This is so risky!’”
Risk pulses throughout the show. Lea says it enters when two dancers from different movement backgrounds come together, like meeting someone who doesn’t speak your language in a foreign country. The four dancers come together, become acquainted and communicate in new ways. They might not speak the same body language, but most universal emotions don’t need explaining.
One section of the show that is sure to be exciting is a footwork war between the two men. “Both are extreme footwork technicians, to a point Vancouver rarely, if ever, gets a chance to see,” says Lea. Vancouver has a handful of flamenco dance studios, filled with women, but very few men.
Encuentros also features some world-class musicians, including percussionist Davide Sampaolo from Rome and 71-year-old oud player Serwan Yamolky from Iraq—both of whom now live in Vancouver. “For all intents and purposes they’re all ringers,” says Lea, who counts her fellow dancers in that remark.
“Flamenco is not a very big community, but flamenco in Vancouver is growing," says Lea, reflecting on the past two decades. "It’s kind of neat to get to this next step."
Next up for Lea is a North American tour. Kasandra Flamenco is a new platform for the artist who has dedicated 20 years of dancing to this city, a platform Lea hopes will now bring her work to the international stage.
Kasandra Flamenco and Caravan World Rhythms present Encuentros on Sunday (May 1) at the Vancouver Playhouse.