Vancouver bailadora Rosario Ancer became captivated by flamenco dancing at the age of 10.
She was living in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey when she saw a movie featuring the legendary Spanish film star Lola Flores.
"She was not a dancer; she was not a singer," Ancer tells the Straight by phone.
But Flores could read poetry very beautifully and she sang and danced marvellously on-screen. "That was my hook," Ancer reveals.
Ancer's love of music and dance continued through her teenage years when she became fascinated with the rhumba singing of another Spanish legend by the name of Peret.
"Rhumba is easy and it's light, so I was learning the songs and dancing," she recalls. "But of course, in my hometown there were no flamenco teachers."
So how did Ancer manage to become the artistic director of the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival, which is now in its 34th year? The pathway was set when she decided to follow her gut in her early 20s.
The spark was lit by one of the most famous flamenco dancers of the 20th century, Manuela Vargas. Her movements, combined with the cry of singer El Moro, left a lifelong impression on Ancer.
"When I saw that woman on-stage, for me, she felt so powerful," Ancer says. "She felt so in control of the dancing, commanding the stage. I felt a very, very strong call."
Even though Ancer had a good job in Mexico, she chucked it aside and moved to Madrid to attend Colegio Amor de Dios Madrid, which is one of the Spanish capital's most famous dance studios.
"This is where heads of ballet [companies] went to get their dancers," she says. "They would come to the classes. They would observe...It was very competitive."
Ancer's parents had passed away by that time—and she wonders if they would have even approved of her going had they been alive. Her brothers and sisters couldn't hold her back.
"I still don't know how I got the strength not to be convinced not to do it," Ancer says. "As I said, it was a very, very strong call—and I'm so happy I followed it."
It was life-changing for her in so many ways. Ancer began dancing professionally in Madrid when she had only been able to do this as an amateur in Mexico. But more importantly, she met her life partner and husband, a Dutch-Canadian musician named Victor Kolstee, and they had their first child in Spain.
They moved to Vancouver, where their second child was born, and launched their own flamenco school and company. And they founded the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival, forever changing the city's relationship with this art form, which combines rapid footwork with guitar, singing, and audience participation.
Flamenco has been popularized around the world by the Gipsy Kings, and it's closely associated with the Andalusia region of Spain. But it actually encompasses influences from Jewish, Catholic, and Islamic cultures as well as from those with Roma bloodlines who brought with them steps from northern India.
At this year's Vancouver International Flamenco Festival, Ancer is especially excited by how younger artists are incorporating contemporary dance along with folklore, classical español, ballet, and the bolero school with flamenco. That was on display in the performance of Madrid-based Mucha Muchacha on September 16.
“What I’m very proud this year is the fact that we have so much of the new generation of artists presenting at the festival," Ancer says.
On Thursday (September 22), Calgary based Anastassiia Alexander will perform The Machinations of Memories Suppressed at Granville Island's Waterfront Theatre. This combines dance with spoken word, based on her poem "Maquina de Olvido".
The following night on Friday (September 23), Victoria-born and Montreal-based Kara Miranda will be at the same location to perform Sombras/Shadows, which reflects her exploration of Carl Jung's theories about the shadow and how to free parts of our unconscious to become more whole human beings.
Then on Saturday (September 24), Ancer's company, Flamenco Rosario, will present Nuevo III, which is the third installment in a series of partnerships with Spanish dancers and choreographers.
The first, Nuevo, New, Nouveau, featured Madrid-based guest artist Karen Lugo at the 2018 festival. Nuevo II was presented the following year with Gabriel Aragu from Sevilla.
Flamenco Rosario's Nuevo III will showcase Ballet Nacional de España’s leading dancer and an award-winning choreographer, Albert Hernández, along with dance partner and co-creator Irene Tena Mora.
They will perform three of their original works. Plus, Nuevo III will include choreography by Granada's Sara Jiménez, as well as Ancer.
It's a remarkable comeback for Ancer, who is still coming to terms with a tragic turn in her life last year when her husband, Victor Kolstee, passed away.
"At the beginning, I don't think I wanted to keep going," Ancer reveals.
But over time, she realized that continuing the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival was a way to ensure that the memory of Kolstee and all of his contributions would remain alive in the city.
Flamenco Rosario Society also created the Victor & Rosario Kolstee Fund to fund professional development for flamenco artists.
"So little by little, I'm coming back from such a dark place," Ancer says.