Special feature: Flamenco
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.
(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
'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'
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
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."