Kiss Project


Produced by Dance Arts Vancouver

Judith Marcuse, Artistic Director

February 6, 1998

Performance Works on

Granville Island


A passionate fusion of rhythm and fancy footwork

by Roxanne Davies

When it looked like artistic director Judith Marcuse couldn't come up with the needed funds to present The Kiss Project this year, along came her friend and philanthropist Mohammed Faris to save the day. Many thanks must go to this generous man for it would have been a cultural calamity for Vancouver if this wonderful and highly creative dance project hadn't come about.

Who says Canadians are apathetic? Certainly not the full house at Performance Works! The boisterous and appreciative audience at Friday's show was a testament to the great love many people have for the art of dance in this city. Some of the audience, with their lithe frames and slim hips were obviously dancers. The rest of us certainly wished we were by the end of the night. I was pleased to see several of the tap dancers were nicely rounded, not anorexic.

The evening was divided into two segments: the first part entitled Soniquete! featured traditional and contemporary flamenco music and dance featuring Mozaico Flamenco under the direction of Oscar Nieto. Soniquete is a term that describes the subtle musical feel or groove that is communicated by flamenco artists in tune with the rhythms of the art form.

Nieto has enjoyed a long and varied career and is one of North America's acclaimed flamenco dancers. He has worked in Europe and North America with the likes of Lola Montes and her Spanish Ballet and the Jose Greco Company. He recently performed with the Vancouver Opera in their production of Carmen.

I must admit I haven't seen much live flamenco, but watching last Friday's show, I felt like I was seeing a lively, virtuoso performance at the feet of a master. Literally. The magic of flamenco lies firmly in the skilful footwork, as well as fingersnapping, clapping and forceful but flowing arm movements.

Flamenco has a rich historical tradition. The dance and music was first performed by Gypsies of Southern Spain. Some say the dance form goes back five centuries. Either in solo or group dances, the performer must improvise and add a personal interpretation to the dance.

Originally,. flamenco dancers were accompanied by clapping, singing and stamping. Castanets were added only much later. Musicians provide a basic, repetitive yet varied rhythm. I was expecting to hear castanets, but alas, there weren't any, not that they were needed. The dance troupe provided a rhythmic accompaniment with loud, energetic, non-stop clapping.

In the first ten minutes, the energy level went through the roof of this intimate performance hall on Granville Island. You could feel the blood simply pulsing through your veins as you were mesmerized by the powerful, intricate dance.

Nieto was joined by dancers Karen Boothroyd, Fiona Johnson and Marius Wolfe. Despite their non-Andalusian sounding names, these talented dancers with their gorgeous costumes seemed simply inspired with a passionate spirit. They beautifully communicated their energy to the audience, which occasionally yelled out their enthusiastic oles during the really difficult bits. Oscar and friends have been dancing for three years and they communicated with each through rhythms and movements that were a joy to watch.

But the star of the show was guest performer Maria Bermudez or "La Cha Cha" as she is fondly called. Wow! Watching her dance made one want to dash off to take flamenco lessons, preferably to Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, where she lives and works. This talented dancer was born in California where she first developed into a flamenco dancer. Bermudez rarely smiled as she concentrated on her complicated and rhythmic footwork, occasionally touching her dark luxuriant hair, flipping her skirts in a flirty gesture that revealed slim, muscular legs. Yet when she did smile, you somehow felt honoured. Her hand movements spoke volumes. The depth of her feeling for her art is apparent. When she and Nieto danced the tango it was as though their bodies were saying :"Look at us. Don't you dare not look!"

The second part of the program was more experimental and stretched our ideas of what tap dance and flamenco offsprings look like with the marriage of these seemingly disparate dance forms. The choreographic concepts were created by Nieto and Santa Aloi, Professor of Dance and Associate Dean of Arts at Simon Fraser University. As the program notes explained, returning to tap was an excursion back to her youth, and combining tap with flamenco was definitely a voyage into new and very loud territory.

Loud it was, and spunky, vibrant, technically interesting. At one point, one group of dancers playfully challenged the other group to mimic the different rhythms they were pounding into the wooden floor. The Extreme Shoe performers Trish Halsey, William Moysey, Lora Hutton, Kristin Nowak and Andrea Gittens danced tap while a "conductor" waved a baton to keep them in rhythm. I found it fascinating when they would suddenly pop up on their toes, like ballerinas en point.

Music for the evening was provided by guitarist Harry Owen and percussionist Mario Zetina. Owen plays flamenco guitar beautifully. His solo pieces were impressive displays of his virtuosity. He often accompanies his wife, flamenco dancer, Veronica Maguire. Obviously one does not have to be born in Spain to inherit a passion for flamenco.

Paco De Leon was the soulful and passionate flamenco singer for the evening. Listening to the songs, one could catch the strains of the different musical traditions that make up flamenco, an amalgam of Hindu, Arab, Moorish, Jewish and Spanish music, distilled in the Gypsy and crystallized in Andalusia. Lyrical, soulful, passionate.

In South America people take flamenco lessons for exercise just as North Americans go to gyms and take aerobics classes. I may just go and talk to Nieto who leads all levels of dance classes. There may just be a place for this Canadian reviewer who fell in love with the gypsy dance performed so beautifully by Mozaico Flamenco.


Copyright 1998 Roxanne Davies