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Feeling flamenco’s puro heart

Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca, January 21, 2012

The Georgia Straight

by Tony Montague

Soledad Barrio didn’t grow up in a flamenco family – she turned 18 before beginning her studies in the dance form. And she’s neither from Andalusia, flamenco’s heartland and birthplace in southern Spain, nor is she a Roma. But Barrio is flamenco to her molten core, and one of its most celebrated dancers.

“If you feel that it’s truly your vocation, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or how old you are,” says Barrio, reached in New York City, speaking rapidly in Spanish. “When I started to dance I said that it was like going back to being born – or to being a child, because when I was small I felt that inside, but it’s as if I forgot it, and when I found it again it was indeed a birth.”

Barrio comes from a working-class background in Madrid, and lives there still with her two daughters and husband Martin Santangelo, the artistic director of their company Noche Flamenca. It was watching television – more precisely, Carlos Saura’s cinematic version of Blood Wedding, by legendary Andalusian poet and playwright Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca – that rang the bells for Barrio.

She and Santangelo, a New Yorker of Argentine descent, got together in 1993 to share their passion for hard-core flamenco, or flamenco puro. They take a back-to-basics attitude and approach to a tradition that originated in the fiercely dark laments of members of persecuted communities – Spanish Muslims, Sephardic Jews, Roma, and others.

The cante (song) came in time to be accompanied by guitar and interpreted in dance. “It’s the oldest and most primordial – even primitive – part of flamenco,” says Barrio. “When I perform I listen to the cante, the guitar as well, of course, and the silence, also to what is inside me. We balance all the elements, but everything is inspired by the cante. Flamenco for me is about expressing what the song is, and your body has to be the throat of the singer.”

For Noche Flamenca’s Vancouver performance, Barrio will be joined by two singers, two guitarists, and three other dancers. Don’t expect any showy ensemble choreography – that’s not flamenco puro. “I don’t believe in group flamenco,” Barrio explains. “Flamenco is a bit like jazz, a personal interpretation. Each dancer has his or her own flamenco, the same as each singer and guitarist, so when we get together you have to handle it very delicately. To have dancers doing precisely the same arm action is great, but it turns into something a bit different. It’s as if you had four people simultaneously writing the same page in a book.”

When asked about the essence of flamenco for her personally, Barrio swiftly responds. “It’s my very life, everything: my pain, my joy, what I get up for in the morning and what I lie down with – and it’s work. Flamenco is a culture. It’s impossible to encapsulate a culture in a few words – for many people it’s a way of living every day.”

Thu Jan 12, 2012