This week I had the chance to interview Olivia Chacon, who is the artistic director of A’lante Flamenco Dance Ensemble and Flamencura, a local school for Flamenco.
In this short Q&A you can see that Olivia truly loves Flamenco in all it’s forms. Learn about A’Lante’s latest performance “The Red Shoes: A Flamenco Fairytale,” an innovative new flamenco interpretation of the deliciously dark fable by Hans Christian Andersen.
AFM: What is flamenco?
OC: Flamenco as a dance form comes as a result of Flamenco, which is a music form that goes back hundreds of years. The flamenco dancer acts a percussionist but has to make it look really good too. Flamenco is not just movement, it’s all rhythm and music too.
AFM: What is the most challenging aspect of bringing flamenco to Austin?
OC: What was challenging about being a flamenco professional was that when we (Olivia and husband Isai) moved here in 2006 there was no activity. There may have been one teacher but overall it was pretty dead. We have been working really hard since then to put together a lot of flamenco shows and started a school. It is called Flamencura and it is in north central Austin (near Dallas Night Club, which Olivia points out, everyone knows about if you are from Austin). Flamencura has a lovely 500 square foot main studio, as well as a small practice/music studio, both equipped with mirrors and sprung plywood floors.
AFM: You seem to bring a modern approach to flamenco choreography with Flamenco Dance Theatere. Can you explain that evolution and how this form of flamenco is different than traditional flamenco?
OC: Flamenco traditionally is a solo art form. The concentration is on the music and one dancer, who participates just as part of the band. It’s a small group of 4-5 people that consists of a singer or two, a guitarist or two, and a dancer. We do this in our dance troupe called Flamencura, named after the school. This is neat because we are able to go to smaller venues, like Malaga, where we perform twice a month. When we wanted to take flamenco into the theater, this had to change. This is an art form that is not made in the theater, so this was kind of an innovation because for a theatrical presentation you get a larger group. You can play with the choreography more. You can do more interesting things; more modern – more influenced by different kinds of dance and in this case we tell our interpretation of the Hans Christian Anderson fable, The Red Shoe. We get to tell stories and there is character development.
AFM: What inspires your choreography?
OC: Primarily the music. I have a fantastic musical director, Isai Chacon, who happens to be my husband. He is also a singer who has a deep knowledge of a lot of different kinds of music. Also, we work with many musicians who come to the table with different influences. All those things I see help to inspire the choreography. Part of what we are presenting is traditional flamenco and part of what we are presenting is more modern. For instance the farruca, is normally danced by a woman, who wears the pants. It’s an interesting twist. We have made this as a duet. Some of the music is different than traditional flamenco as well. Isai found a piece from a classical guitarist that inspired the whole first part of this farruca dance.
AFM: As artistic director of A’Lante Flamenco Dance Ensemble how involved are you with the flamenco costumes?
OC: I am extremely involved. I put together all the costume direction. Flamenco costuming is difficult primarily because of budgets. We are doing a more modern interpretation so we have some more modern costumes in this performance. I just learned to sew in the last year and I make some of these costumes. We also have traditional, big flamenco skirts in the performance that are made by commissioned seamstresses. Flamenco costumes can also be difficult because they are based on 18-19th century daily clothing. However, flamenco is a very athletic dance, which requires the freedom to move. The more modern costumes have stretchy materials.
AFM: What drew you to Hans Christian Andersen’s fable for your latest performance?
OC: This performance is inspired by personal experience. I have always loved that fable and my mother took me to see the movie of the Red Shoe, which was released in the 1940s. It was a ballet interpretation that was very memorable and powerful for me. Then as an adult, I was working full time, dancing flamenco at night and I was exhausted. I made the agonizing decision to quit my day job and dedicate myself completely to flamenco. It was a big decision, one that a lot of people misinterpreted as going on a vacation. People would tell me ’you are living the dream/, and I would say ‘I know’ (knowing it was a lot of work). Flamenco started for me 16 years ago. Slowly you become more dedicated, more obsessed with it. For the girl in The Red Shoes this is a bad thing. She is a frivolous girl who wears her red shoes everywhere and for her immorality, her shoes are bewitched. In the original story, the girl gets her feet chopped off because she is dying from exhaustion due to her inability to stop dancing. Our ending is different, a little more metaphysical, I guess. I won’t give it away!
If you can’t didn’t get a chance to see the performance, learn by doing. Flamencura will hold a week long workshop at their dance school here in Austin.
EL FLAMENCAZO at FLAMENCURA!
Six days of music and dance workshops and activities featuring phenomenal guest artists: Miguel Vargas, from Sevilla, Spain; Illeana Gomez of Laredo and New Mexico; guitar workshops by Jose Manuel Tejeda, recent arrival from Havana, Cuba; plus: percussion workshop with our own Pepe Gaytan, Palmas and Cante workshops with Isaí Chacón
All activities are held at Flamencura Music & Dance Studio, 7113 Burnet Rd.#111, unless otherwise indicated. Information and registration available at www.flamencura.org.
Written by Chonie Bradley (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Images Courtesy of Olivia Chacón