Flamenco stomps into Calgary

By Renee Matsalla

For its second year, the Calgary International Flamenco Festival transported audiences from their Canadian hometown into southern Spain. Passionate dancers, cool percussion and aggressive guitars were featured during the week-long festival in celebration of the traditional music of Spanish gypsies. From September 23–29, Calgarians were able to witness one of the most intricate and alluring music forms in the world.

“It is a very unique opportunity for Calgary audiences to get out and experience flamenco in its many different forms, from innovative flamenco to fusion to traditional,” says Fiona Malena, the festival’s artistic director. 

Flamenco music originated from 
impoverished Spanish gypsies in the 1700s and lives on today in modern Spain and around the world. The music features complicated rhythms mixed with booming guitars, furious feet and ominous vocals that can emit any emotion, from pure elation to absolute agony. Flamenco musicians are famous for turning random objects into percussion instruments. Guitars, tables, chairs, anvils — you name it, they’ve played it. The talented dancers are also a part of the music, as their stomping feet and clapping hands mix with other instruments to create an addictive art form.

The organizers of this unique festival are ecstatic to bring their passion for this relatively unknown music and dance style to Canada, a country many miles away from Spain.

“That is what the festival is all about: introducing the art form to new audience members,” says Malena. “Every show has been very distinct. There really is something for everyone.”

The festival showcased four main concerts, as well as workshops throughout the week that allowed audiences to get a taste of every facet of flamenco music. Holly Blazina, a local flamenco guitarist featured in the performance on Sept. 29, said the festival had amazing opportunities for local talent to work with some of the best flamenco artists in the world. 

“For me, the highlight of the festival was the workshop with Victor El Tomate, the guitarist,” says Blazina. “I got to work with such a high-level artist. I would not have had the contacts to do that on my own, and it was at a fraction of what it would cost me to go to Spain.”

The focal point of the festival was the main show on Sept. 28, which featured one of the world’s best flamenco dancers, Manuel Liñán. The audience erupted in clapping, cheers and the occasional “Ole!” in response to the technically precise and captivating Spanish dancer.

“It is wonderful in our second year to be able to present such an important artist,” says Malena. “The charisma, technical genius and energy he carries forth from the stage is really outstanding.” 

It is hard to believe that the festival is so young when considering the calibre of performers the organizers have brought to Calgary. However, the festival is still very new and has experienced some challenges in a city full of festivals. 

“We have a volunteer base, but we hope it grows in following years,” says Malena. “We are all doing our best, but we would love to dedicate our time to being at the shows or performances.” 

With luck, the Calgary International Flamenco Festival will be able to grow even larger in the coming years, securing its niche as a part of Calgary’s ever-expanding art scene.

“The vision is to build on what we have now,” says Malena. “We hope to do better in future years, be able to offer more activities to the public and extend our marketing so that we can have a wider audience of people who have not been exposed to flamenco before. We are really happy with the festival this year and we would just like to build from there.”

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