Spanish flamenco dancing and Chinese musicians and dancers of Chinese,
Filipino and Caucasian heritage? Throw in a Japanese born traditional
flamenco singer, and this must be multicultural Vancouver on a good day.
the mid-18th century, there actually existed a Flamenco
singer's coffee shop in the city of Malaga in southern Spain. This
region of Andalucia had good commerce with the Orient (primarily from
the Phillipines) and many Asian women, known as “chinitas” would attend
the cafe. Today in Madrid, you can go to a specific 2nd story
restaurant in a 19th Century building, eat good spanish food and watch
flamenco dancing as part of the city's vibrant night life.
But for one evening, the city of Vancouver did Madrid one step better.
people filled the Norman Rothstein Theatre at the Jewish Community
Centre. The curtains parted to reveal five beautiful women in flamenco
dresses sitting motionless on chairs, their heads held high as if
posing for fashion magazines. Sensual tension was high, as sparse
musical notes came from a flamenco guitar. A woman's voice cut the air
in spanish tongue. A man dressed in black, moved haltingly slow and
dramatic, his heels hitting the floor in stuttering bursts of sound. A
chinese erhu played melodic lines. Unseen hands beat rhythmic bursts
on a wooden box. Graceful arms arched skyward like a bird of prey. A
flash of movement, a spin, then stillness and sparse percussive rhythm
back to dynamic tension, as the women sit quietly, not having moved an
Welcome to Cafe de Chinatas a la Vancouver, courtesy of
Mozaico Flamenco and Vancouver's renowned Chinese and New Music
performers, the Orchid Ensemble. It is a musical collaboration created
by producer project
director Kassandra and artistic director Oscar Nieto. Guest dancer
Pablo Pizano, provided an exciting male lead to the five company
dancers of Spanish, Mexican, English, Chinese and Filipino heritage.
Flamenco guitarist Peter Mole, flamenco singer Keiko Ooka and flamenco
cellist Cyrena Huang provided dimension to the traditional and
innovative music of Orchid Ensemble's Lan Tung on erhu, Gelina Tang on
zheng and Jonathan Bernard on percussion.
musicians had been working with Flamenco Mozaico on a daily basis,
learning the form of flamenco music. Bernard told me that this was the
first time he had played
the flamenco box-drum. For one segment in the first act, titled
“Levantica,” Lan Tung
improvises on erhu, matching the vocal stylings of Japanese born
Cantaora (flamenco singer), Keiko Ooka. The erhu literally sings from
her heart and the depths of Tung's soul. This is not the traditional
Chinese music I ran away from whenever I heard it in Chinatown.
Each musical or dance number gave a different
dimension to this unique take on the “East Meets West” theme. “Cafe de
Chinatas” is an actual traditional song and poem written by Federico
Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) that is often performed by flamenco dancers.
Kasandra followed with a colourful solo dance. Her dazzling smile, subtlety and graceful flash contrasting with the seriousness and energetic tensionof guest dancer Pablo Pizano.
traditional style music, with the dancers dressed in red-golden chinese
cheong-sam dresses with the thigh-high slits, opened the 2nd Act with
music composed by Vancouver composer Jin Zhang. Artistic director
Oscar Nietor took his solo turn dressed in a Chinese outfit. He looked
like a graceful old Chinese Tai-Chi master, but he floated across the
floor on his stuttering flamenco footwork, deceptively balancing the
yin and yang of movement and stillness, hard and soft, quiet and loud.
Horses of Heaven is a contemporary piece in the Orchid Ensemble
repetoire by Vancouver new music composer Moshe Demburg. All three
principal dancers, Nieto, Pizano and Kasandra took to the stage,
blending and contrasting their unique dance styles of flamenco. It was
wonderful to see, like an exotic ballet of style and movement. Bernard
played the marimbas, while Lan Tung's erhu sang high melodic lines
chasing the delicate plucking of Gelina Tang's zheng.
There was a good buzz in the city on the weekend about the latest offering from Mozaiko Flamenco. Both
the Vancouver Sun and the Globe & Mail wrote preview features. I
was warned by Orchid Ensemble leader and erhu player Lan Tung, that the
show would be sold out. It was. I sat backstage in the wings and had
an incredible “insider's view” of the show.
My familiarity with flamenco is limited to witnessing performances by flamenco guitarist legends Paco de Lucia and Paco Pena.
They bring top notch dancers and singers who have grown up steeped in
Spanish flamenco culture with them on tour. Cafe de Chinatas captured
the flavor of traditional flamenco and added some special flavours to
the mix. They transported the audience to Spain, but also infused it
with Vancouver's intercultural fusion seasonings. This show was
definitely special. Aspects of this show should definitely be included
for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic offerings. Chinese flamenco dancers
with Orchid Ensemble… better in my books and more representative of
Vancouver than snow mobiler and hockey stick carrying skaters in the
closing Olympic ceremonies of Torino.