Paco de Lucía
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Special feature: Flamenco in Canada

Fire and ice

Carmen Jiménez. Vancouver, May 2004
Translation: Gary Cook

Flamenco in Canada is booming. With very little flamenco tradition to speak of, the shoots of flamenco are beginning to sprout up all around this corner of the world. Whilst it does not pretend to rival countries such as Mexico, Argentina or the U.S., Canada is starting to be eyed as a country with potential, not only for Canadian artists themselves but also for international artists and others involved in the music business. In fact, Paco de Lucía himself recently showed his face in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto, cities which are beginning to build their own reputations as flamenco venues, albeit independently due to the vast distances between them. Vast distances, too, separate each of them from Spain, though they're forging ever stronger links with the fatherland of flamenco.


Carmen Romero
(Photo: Cylla Von Tiedemann)

There is a vast gulf between Canada, still a flamenco fledgling, and the U.S., where festivals like 'Flamenco Festival USA' go from strength to strength, offering first rate performances and big name artists every year. The earliest firm-rooted inklings of flamenco appeared here in the sixties, though they were a drop in the ocean compared with the flamenco scene in the rest of the continent. Since then flamenco has gradually grown in popularity, principally in cities like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. The reasons for the newness of this following are the vast expanse of the Canadian territories and their distance from the epicentre of flamenco in Spain. In fact, part of the flamenco activity which goes on in Canada does not have its roots in Spain, even though Spanish flamenco is the yardstick and the example to be followed.

One example can be found in the west of the country, in cities like Vancouver and Victoria, both within the territory of British Columbia, where the local flamenco tradition's 'founding fathers' came from Latin America - mainly Mexico - or were simply Canadians with a passion for flamenco. Toronto and Montreal are the other side of the coin, two cities where the Spanish community is more numerous and where the influence of flamenco from Spain is more evident. Both cities are home to communities of artists and flamenco followers who have spent time studying at Spanish flamenco schools.

Flamenco in Toronto

Today Toronto is a major focal point of flamenco in Canada. Flamenco's first appearance in the city can be traced back to the fifties, when organized parties of immigrants arrived from Spain, fleeing the harsh post-war dictatorship. From this date on, the Spanish community swelled and laid down its roots, and as a result a rich cultural tradition with Spanish roots and flavours began to blossom. It wasn't long before Spanish restaurants and businesses started to spring up, the Spanish immigrants thus creating the perfect venues at which to sample Spanish culture, and flamenco took center stage. An important role in the creation of this culture was played, and still is today, by the so-called Club Hispano, which arose out of the necessity felt by Spaniards in those times to feel a certain bond with one another, and give each other mutual support. The illness of a Spaniard in the city moved the community to raise funds to send him home. This event led to the desire to create some kind of organization to represent Spaniards in Toronto. This club is still a meeting point today, and the driving force behind cultural events such as Festival Caravan, offering flamenco and dance classes, and where celebrations are also held to mark other Spanish events, such as the famous San Fermín festival.

'Carmen Complex' poster

At the same time, Toronto is outstanding in terms of its opportunities for studying flamenco. Two schools dominate the offerings in this city, and both are run by women: Carmen Romero and Esmeralda Enrique. Esmeralda Enrique's school was founded in 1982. Its objective is, according to its director, "to keep pure flamenco alive in Toronto, taking new elements and weaving them into the essence of flamenco." And to do so, she keeps "Spain firmly in her sights." Her company is currently running a show entitled 'Cádiz: Heart of Flamenco', which opened in December, and where the artist shows her passion for this Andalusian city, and her burning desire to rediscover the origins of flamenco.

As for Carmen Romero, she'd been running her own professional dance troupe since 1986, under the name of Candela Flamenca. In 1992, she joined forces with guitarist and songwriter Miguel de la Bastide, with two albums recorded: 'Siento' and 'El cambio'. After several years working together, they changed the structure of the company and gave it a make-over. Domingo Ortega from Jerez also works with her. The company maintains an international focus, touring Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia. Carmen is currently planning the première of a production entitled 'Carmen Complex', a modern piece which studies the personality of a bailaora, and where classical music and dance rub shoulders with flamenco and Argentinean tango.

Montreal makes its mark

The history of flamenco in Montreal has been in some ways similar to that of Toronto. Around the same time, in the 60s, Spaniards arrived in search of better work and economic prospects. They too left their mark on the city's culture. The Universal Expo of 1967 helped to promote flamenco in the city. In the Spain pavilion there were several flamenco shows, which aroused widespread interest and curiosity. Spanish restaurants, and later on some tablaos, began to build a reputation for what is now an inherent part of the city's culture.

Between 1960 and 1970 many venues appeared offering flamenco shows with Spanish artists: L'Empress Lounge, Le Château Madrid and L'Association Espagnole. In the 80s it was places like the Sancho Panza, La Bodega and the Pavillon Español, while the best-known of all was the Rancho Grande. There you could see some of the finest artists around at the time, like Arcadio Marín, José Valle 'Chuscales' Aquilino, Pierre Le Duc and Marcel Plante 'El Rubio'. But those who really shaped flamenco in this city weren't from Spanish backgrounds at all. The Spanish brought along the warmth and created the atmosphere, but they weren't the ones who taught the art form. In fact the first teacher, Sonia del Río, was a Canadian, although she had received part of her training at the Ballet de José Greco in Madrid. On her return to Canada, she began to give classes in ballet and flamenco. People began to speak more and more about flamenco, and local interest started to grow.

Arcadio Marín and Paco Pedrosa.
El Rancho Grande. Montreal. 1980

The second key figure in the early days of flamenco was Patrick Schupp, considered the father-figure of flamenco in this city. Several generations of flamenco have passed through his hands in Montreal. His affair with flamenco began in his native France, where he worked as a journalist. Later on he moved to Montreal, where he began to write flamenco reviews which would gradually move him deeper into the flamenco dance scene, in which he would soon be a key player. "All those of us who today form part of Montreal's flamenco circuit owe our passion to Patrick", comments José Luis Pérez, a Spanish cantaor and bailaor resident in Montreal. "He knew how to transmit his love of flamenco to everyone, as well as how to get the best out of everyone."

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