Flamenco Festival opens traditional form to new expression

Elba Hevia y Vaca wants to pull flamenco into the 21st century.

“Traditional flamenco is very limited — a wonderfully limited, highly structured way of interpreting the form,” said Evia y Vaca. “You have a particular range of emotions you can take: happy, sad … and really sad.”

She organized Philadelphia’s first Flamenco Festival, which begins Monday with a master class at Temple University. The two weeks of performances, workshops, and a symposium about the dance originating in Spain will focus on modern, progressive flamenco.

The flamboyant dance and guitar style are known for passionate stories of men and women desperately falling in love, or violently falling out of it. Hevia y Vaca is pushing flamenco into “anti-guapa,” or not beautiful.

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“Stereotypically, flamenco has been beautiful women and passion and sexual objects,” said Helvia y Vaca. “I’m looking, and several women flamenco dancers in Spain are looking at that with a different eye. We’re looking at women being a protagonist of their own stories.”

With grant money through Dance Advance, Hevia Y Vaca commissioned Spanish choreographer Rosario Toledo to create a new piece. Called “Complices,” which translates to “allies,” the dance has emotional contradictions and dualities that traditional flamenco does not allow.

“The dance and the music and the singer help to express this situation, because this situation is common among everybody,” said Toledo, speaking in choppy English from Hevia Y Vaca’s garage dance studio. “Duality is like yin-yang.”

The world premiere of “Complices” will be on Thursday at Christ Church in Old City. It will be performed several times over the next two weeks, and Toledo will also teach master classes at select area colleges.

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