Spanish duo Pilar Ogalla and Andrés Peña find fire at the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival

At the 25th Vancouver International Flamenco Festival, a couple digs deep into traditional, and regional, styles of the dance

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      Flamenco dancers Pilar Ogalla and Andrés Peña were born and raised in cities a mere 25 kilometres apart in Andalusia but as different in character as chalk and cheese—or, more accurately, as brine and wine.

      Ogalla comes from Cádiz, a major port on Spain’s Atlantic coast that’s been home to the Spanish navy for centuries and has absorbed many influences from distant lands, particularly those in Latin America. Peña is from Jerez de la Frontera, an inland city whose inhabitants have remained closely linked to the earth, and in particular to the vineyards that produce the fortified white wine known by the city’s name, jerez—or, in English, sherry.

      Cádiz de la Frontera—the show Ogalla and Peña bring to the 25th-anniversary Vancouver International Flamenco Festival—reflects the flamenco traditionally performed in each city, as well as the personalities of the two dancers themselves.

      “One day, a friend of ours said, ‘You’re so different, how is it you became partners?’ ” recalls Ogalla when reached at the couple’s home in Jerez, and speaking in Spanish. “She knows both of us, and it’s true we’re very different. I grew up in a more outward-looking city, and Andrés in a more inward-looking city. When we get together, interesting things happen. That sparked an idea. Andrés lived his flamenco right here, and I lived mine in Cádiz, and when we join up, each of us is enriched by the other.”

      “Although as tierras [lands] Jerez and Cádiz are so close, in terms of flamenco there’s quite a leap between them,” adds Peña. “Over in Cádiz, due in part to links with the carnaval, things are more lively, as can be seen in the palos [flamenco forms] of alegrías, tanguillos, bulerías….Here in Jerez it’s the opposite, with a rough quality that comes from people who’ve been out in the fields labouring all day. I’d say it’s deeper, though I don’t know if that word is adequate. The work was often heavy, and so they created [the palos] siguiriyas and soleás, which could channel the weariness.”

      Cádiz is celebrated in particular for its cantes de ida y vuelta (“roundtrip songs”), a name for the flamenco palos such as guajiras and milongas, and rumbas that came back to Spain from Latin America after picking up influences from African slaves and indigenous peoples. They often have a mellower, less “clenched” character. Intriguingly, characteristics of the two cities and their cultures are evident in the voices of Ogalla and Peña. Her pronunciation is looser and more open in its vowels, whereas his speech is noticeably more clipped and comes from tighter vocal cords.

      The couple met while working at the same flamenco tablao in Seville, and found they shared a strong attraction to traditional flamenco rather than more experimental, and sometimes iconoclastic, approaches to the art. Ogalla and Peña’s first collaboration, A Fuego Lento (By a Slow Fire), drew great critical response in Spain, particularly at the prestigious Festival de Jerez, and they toured it as far as the U.S. “The show was well-received everywhere, because it’s so simple,” says Ogalla. “That’s our way, and we’re not going to change it: cante, dance, and guitar—but always looking for a story to tell.”

      Cádiz de la Frontera is the second show they created as dancers and choreographers. The original cast included a violinist who provided a narrative thread. “We like to work with the same people, but this is a complicated profession and they have dates when they’re unavailable for touring. On this occasion we will be four, with [singer] Inma Rivero, who’s often in our productions and is like family now, and also [guitarist] Juan Campallo, who’s with us only for the second time.”

      Peña assures that the inevitable competitive aspect of the relationship between the two contrasting communities did not shape the production.

      “In the show things are evenly split all the way, 50-50 Cádiz and Jerez. Any rivalry between our cities is expressed only on the soccer field—and should stay there.”

      The Andrés Peña and Pilar Ogalla Company presents Cádiz de la Frontera as part of the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival next Saturday (September 19) at the Vancouver Playhouse.