New Flamenco performance in Philly challenges the art form to be ‘about women, for women’

Flamenco kept Elba Hevia y Vaca from “going crazy” in the patriarchal culture of her native Bolivia.

Now, in “La Bolivianita” — a dance performance telling the story of a Bolivian immigrant, mother, and dancer — Hevia y Vaca, artistic director of Philadelphia’s Pasión y Arte Flamenco, explodes with emotions.

“Flamenco celebrates every emotion,” she told the audience at a preview performance at the Vox Populi gallery Saturday night.

“Emotion is the compás,” she said, referring to the rhythm, the time signature, to which the singers, guitarist, and dancers adhere.

Next year, the Pasión y Arte Flamenco Company will celebrate 20 years in Philadelphia.

Hevia y Vaca, now 60, had danced for many companies, but knew she wanted to create an all-female company and to challenge the notion that flamenco “placed women as seductresses, sexual objects and last in the hierarchy of the form,” she writes on the group’s website.

She wanted to make work about women, for women, that celebrates and empowers women. Twenty years later, she says, “now is the time, more than ever.”

In “La Bolivianita,” Hevia y Vaca shares the joy and sadness of becoming a mother, growing up in an oppressive culture, and discovering her indigenous ancestry. She lashes out at sexual objectivation of women as she dives beneath the bata de cola, a traditional ornate Flamenco skirt, and she implores the audience to clap along during a joyous cueca, an Indigenous and Spanish folk dance.

The preview was part of a two-day event at the Vox Populi gallery exploring Feminism and Flamenco. On Sunday night, the gallery will screen “Impulso” (2017) a film by Emilio Belmonte about queer Flamenco dancer Rocίo Molina. La Bolivianita,” directed by Belen Maya, will officially premiere at the 2019 Fringe Festival in September.

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