Vancouver International Flamenco Festival stars push form
Myriam Allard and Hedi Graja may be marinated in the culture of southern Spain but the company they created in Montreal isn’t known for its traditional approach to the flamenco arts. Since its foundation six years ago, La Otra Orilla has forged a signature style that’s multidisciplinary and sharply contemporary, based on Allard’s charismatic dance and Graja’s singing.
“I’m from Quebec and Hedi is from Paris,” says Allard, reached at her Montreal home, and speaking in French. “We met and became friends in 1998 in Seville where we’d both gone because we felt a strong need to understand flamenco from the source itself. We had this concern for a kind of perfection. Since then we’ve moved away from that a bit. Starting from the knowledge we went to Andalusia to gain, we’ve chosen to work with who we are, to avoid imitating, or doing things according to codes. We decided to do what we felt like, trusting that our training and studies are solid, and well-anchored, so now we can take things a bit further ‘out there’.”
La Otra Orilla, which performs at this year’s Vancouver International Flamenco Festival (which runs to Sunday [September 23]), began life with shows that had a more conventional tablao character. But by the oddly titled MuE s in 2007, the small company was already headed in a new direction. “We started to look for a more ‘exploded’ form,” says Allard. “With [the production] El12 two years ago, I feel we succeeded in creating something really different and transdisciplinary that integrates video with important scenographic work—the musicians are in movement. Since then we’ve explored ways of maintaining movement on the stage—because the dances are mainly solos. So the musicians become physical actors in the piece, and participate in the physicality. Video frames it all. It’s a work of integration, and quite poetic.”
The three pieces La Otra Orilla presents at the flamenco fest reveal its stylistic range. Cercania 1 is taken from the 2008 show Denominación de Origen Descontrolado and has a more traditional flamenco feel. The two other pieces are major extracts from Homoblablatus, a multifaceted work-in-progress that pushes the envelope in several respects. The festival audience gets a sneak preview and may influence the form it will assume for its much-anticipated premiere in Montreal in January.
Homoblablatus blends flamenco-inspired music and dance with elements of theatre, and is concerned with language and communication. “It poses questions about living in a world with an overabundance of words, to the point where they don’t seem to mean anything anymore,” Allard explains. “There’s a surfeit of images, sounds—everything’s in excess, and we’re constantly being solicited. We ask ourselves ‘What’s left to say? What traces can we leave behind?’ Language, dialogues, the weight of words, and—when none are left—silence. What remains when you strip the artifice away? Those are the themes.
“We’re still working in tableau form—in that way we still keep some of the essence of flamenco, which is always structured as a series of discrete presentations. Though the piece is quite theatrical it remains dance and flamenco. There’s also much work on the letras, the texts that Hedi chooses to bring out the theme. It’s touched by the absurd, as the title suggests. It’s satirical, almost clown-esque—there’s a ‘little devil’ aspect. We want to provoke, to try to find where the public’s discomfort lies. For sure it’s an uncomfortable zone for me. It’s so much easier to come on-stage and dance an alegría or soleá. But that’s not what we’re approaching with Homoblablatus.”
Allard calls the performance of the two extracts—the piece’s beginning and end—a “pre-preview”. “It’s still unfinished but is completely presentable. I’m very excited to show it because we’ll get some feedback, and I think it will help the work to evolve. Cercania is much more comfortable as I’ve done it so many times, but the extracts from Homoblablatus will have a certain nervous energy and excitement. For me, as a performer at any rate, they’re going to be a big contrast—and present quite a challenge.”
La Otra Orilla performs at the Waterfront Theatre this Friday (September 21), as part of the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival.