Raices y Alas Flamenco: Unflinching Feminine Power
Essay by Gloria Hickey

Last Saturday evening at the Masonic Terrace, St. John’s was treated to a performance of flamenco music and dance that was nothing short of a transfusion of primal energy. Forget the lighter, milder versions of flamenco that many of us have experienced in folkloric cafes popular with tourists in Spain. Andrea Williams and Michelle Harding from Vancouver’s Raices y Alas Flamenco dig deep into the authentic and share with us all the Andalusian roots that have fed Flamenco.

One of the joys of the Saturday performance is that we had a full serving of all the vibrant components of flamenco: live vocals by Sean Harris (cante), Manny Companjen on guitar, Anthony Tucker on a beat box (percussion) and Christina Penney clapping (palmas y baile). The vocals of Harris had that unmistakable heart-felt wail that carry us from soaring joy to the depths of despair–and that is the emotional torque so characteristic of true flamenco. That pared-down cry from the heart is an indication of the Jewish and Arab flavours of flamenco and surely takes us right back to the origins of song itself. All the other components fall in percussive and rhythmic place and the dancers inhabit the music with every cell they possess.

Andrea Williams and Michelle Harding from Vancouver’s Raices y Alas Flamenco dig deep into the authentic and share with us all the Andalusian roots that have fed Flamenco.

Williams and Harding have a clearly defined vocabulary of dance gestures and communication flows between them. It is as if they suck the music up through the soles of the feet and without restraint or convention it percolates through their bodies and back to the musicians. The word spontaneous seems more apt than improvisation. Their graceful hands circle and air borne arms undulate as if recalling the gypsies’ spice route of migration from India to Andalusia. And all the delicious moments of contrast: a ruffled skirt goes from sensual to seething, curling lines give way to the jut of an elbow or flat palm. This is so much more than the attitude-filled dance moves of a pair of dueling dancers; this is skill that has become charisma.

It is as if they suck the music up through the soles of the feet and without restraint or convention it percolates through their bodies and back to the musicians.

From St. John’s to Corner Brook, our local dancers who got to participate in the Flamenco Residency had a rare opportunity to experience professional classes, one-on-one mentorship and community performances with the featured dancers of Raice y Alas. No doubt, “Olé!” could be heard all the way from St. John’s to Gander and Corner Brook.

Watch for the October 21st showing of the flamenco documentary La Chana at the St. John’s International Woman’s Film Festival, accompanied by a curtain raiser performance with local flamenco dancer Christina Penney and musician Sean Harris.

Gloria Hickey
gloriah@nf.sympatico.ca
www.gloriahickeycraftwriter.blogspot.com