Former Vancouverite Lia Grainger is living out a fantasy: she’s run away to Seville to become a flamenco dancer.
“La Lia”, as she’s known on-stage, was a dancer at the Kino in the early 2000s, then studied under Oscar Nieto before relocating to Toronto and helping to found Flamenguitos del Norte. Now she bases her touring Fin de Fiesta troupe out of the historic Andalusian capital—a dream come true.
“Seville is beautiful, but also in terms of dance it’s amazing. There are so many great schools and so many artists,” says Grainger over the phone from Toronto, where her troupe is performing. She says she spends the better part of the year in Andalusia before her group begins its travel season. “You can really become a part of it. I know all the singers now; I know the small venues. It’s not a big city: I can’t walk around without seeing people I know.” Grainger says it’s affordable enough that she can have her own studio, where she works throughout the winter. “You want to be inspired by the incredible teachers there,” she adds.
“And flamenco—everyone knows it there, it’s not just the dancers and the musicians. People know the words to the songs, and people can do the palmas,” she continues, referring to the clapping rhythms that echo through the audience as the dancers perform.
It must be said that Grainger—a tall former basketball player with a dramatic stage presence—definitely stands out in southern Spain, however. “One thing is I’m six foot one, and there’s no one that looks like that there!” the affable artist says with a laugh.
In fact, all the members of Grainger’s Fin de Fiesta, named for the joyous jam session that comes at the end of a flamenco show, are now in Seville for much of the year. And all of them have a Canadian connection: classically trained flutist Lara Wong is an ex-Vancouverite; guitarist Dennis Duffin has a long history in this country’s flamenco scene, and holds a PhD in astrophysics from McMaster University; Italian percussionist Davide Sampaulo is married to a Vancouverite and splits his time between here and Spain; French singer Alejandro Mendía’s own band, flamenco-Balkan fusionists Les Noces Gitanes, played the Vancouver International Folk Festival last summer; and his partner, dancer Deborah “La Caramelita” Dawson, is a former Vancouverite who trained at Centro Flamenco. They’ve seen their ensemble’s touring schedule explode, with trips throughout Spain and the south of France this summer before hitting spots across Canada.
"Because we’re all based in Spain, we’re all really in touch with what’s happening now,” Grainger says, stressing that the art form there is cutting-edge contemporary these days.
Still, expect an energized mix all its own when Fin de Fiesta brings the new show Llándola here for the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival. Grainger explains its title comes from a hard-to-translate Spanish word that means taking something simple and complicating it. “So there’s a lot of stuff that’s really playful,” she says of the show. “We’ve had a lot of time to make it really tight.”
Even though she loves her magical adopted city of Seville, Grainger still gets excited about coming to Vancouver. She also sees this tour stop at Flamenco Rosario’s festival—an event founded by Vancouver veterans Rosario Ancer and Victor Kolstee that’s celebrating its 25th year—as bringing her full circle.
“It’s super cool being at the festival,” enthuses Grainger, who’s especially happy to be sharing a roster with La Moneta, a Spanish dancer she considers an icon (see sidebar). “I started flamenco in Vancouver in 2004 and this festival was happening then, and I remember going to it and being blown away by all these artists. And then my first class was at Centro Flamenco, Rosario’s school.
“Being gone so long—I was in Toronto for six years and then Spain—to be coming back is amazing.”
The Vancouver International Flamenco Festival runs from Saturday (September 9) to September 24. It presents Fin de Fiesta at the Waterfront Theatre on September 21.