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Five Minutes With...

Kasandra “La China”

Our Discover Dance! series is back this month with Mozaico Flamenco, streaming online April 15-28. We sat down (virtually) with Artistic Director Kasandra ‘La China’ to find out more about her work.

When and how did you discover flamenco?

I was actually a classical violinist studying at the Vancouver Academy of Music with the brilliant artist Gwen Thompson, who had a flamenco lesson with Oscar Nieto.  She thought I could use a flamenco dance lesson to help with the violin expression and get into my body. So I did. I never returned to violin.

Briefly describe your dance career to date.

I started out in Vancouver in 1995-6 with Oscar Nieto, who mentored me in the early years in flamenco dance technique and flamenco as a structural art form, and still to this day I consider Oscar a great influence on my career both as artist and teacher. Since 1998, I have traveled to Spain eight times to study in Madrid, Jerez de la Frontera and Seville under many renowned flamenco dancers to learn traditional, classical, contemporary styles and what we call flamenco puro (pure flamenco originating from the gypsies in Jerez de la Frontera). In 2002, Oscar and I joined forces to create Al Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy and Mozaico Flamenco Dance Theatre, and we had many years together at the Hastings Dance Studio in Vancouver.

In 2012, I started bringing in invited guest dancers from Spain for workshops at the academy and some famed names include Belen Maya, Concha Jareno, Adela Campallo and Ivan Vargas. My career as a flamenco dancer flourished as I was on a mission to showcase avant-garde duets with male flamenco dancers and classical Spanish dancers, which led to various fusions with Irish, tap and contemporary male dancers too. I have mainly focused on my solo work and male-female interactions in duets. These days, my thoughts on this have changed and I believe the future will be inspired by the very wide and deep talent that we have here in Canada, and to express the unique multicultural identity that I have as a Vancouverite.

How have you adapted and sustained your practice during the pandemic?

I feel very fortunate to have done many shows during pandemic times with Latincouver, Vancouver International Flamenco Festival, Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Small Stage, and yourselves at The Dance Centre. Alas, the future is pre-recording my dancing in a black box with technicians that outnumber the flamenco artists!  At least that is what I predict for 2021 along with some outdoor summer shows. Flamenco is a very “hot” artform with live interactions between dancers, musicians and chatty audience members. It was initially very hard to create this ambiance when we first started but now that we have done a few shows like this, I think we are all really happy to get on stage. It is really like letting Ferrari’s out of a garage to have the flamencos on stage again! Yes, we are able to adapt to pre-recorded stream-on-demand and livestream.

With regards to the academy, more than half my school is currently on Zoom with me. I consider Zoom the New Live and I call it ‘Flamenco At Home’. Actually, it is very convenient and saves people the commute into town. We are still able to banter back and forth with the community and I do consider it a true extension of what I already do. Zoom is better than live in some regards, including slow technique explanation with repetitive drills and analysis of compas/music/time signature… and believe it or not, people on Zoom do better at learning the structure of improvisational flamenco, and I have seen people learn song forms like tangos and bulerias in about 9 months versus 18 months in a live class.

Zoom requires the instructor to be more deliberate in their approach. I become something of a comedian-slash-educator and since Zoom is a captive audience, haha, my students have to pay attention to me. Therefore, it is actually easier to analyse technique and describe structure on Zoom. I now reach people in remote areas of Vancouver Island, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Yukon and across the country.  We do have a time zone issue which is where my other product ‘Flamenco On Demand’ comes in, where I have created classes that are available 24/7 from any device, and this is an on-going process to document my methodology.

However, nothing beats live action and the vibrancy and energy of live class. Until recently I was operating out of Scotiabank Dance Centre and Presentation House, and the people who come to live class want to dance with reckless abandon. We were JUST able to present all our winter term work in free Facebook Livestreams off the Al Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy page. Since pandemic times have called for different measures, we are able to dance one at a time with live musicians and work on solos, which is actually what cuadro flamenco is all about. The students “performed” personal bests thinking that someone out there on Facebook was watching. As I see the counter each day, some videos are at 650 views over a few days. Amazing. We are all performers in the end, and we want to be seen. No stage? No Theatre?  No problem. We are pressing this FB Live button now. It is too easy.

 

Tell us about the work you’ll be sharing in your Discover Dance! stream.

I prepared a very festive, celebratory program just to convey a sense of joy and happiness during the pandemic.

Tangos del Titi is a cheeky, feminine dance coming from the neighbourhood of Triana in Seville. I dance this in a huge yellow dress and red Cordobes sombrero.

Alegrias which means joy and happiness is a song from from the beach town of Cadiz, the first port in Spain. I dance this with a silk shawl called Manton de Manila.

Colombiana is a song form influenced by Colombia and is part of the De Ida Y Vuelta song forms, when flamenco was influenced by Latin America. This song is an original composition by Josue Tacoronte, Cuban guitarist/composer. I will be dancing this with various sized Spanish and Chinese fans. This video will be mixed by Chris Randle and I dare say it is an experimentation of video editing since I filmed 3-4 different parts. Haha!

If you didn’t have a career in dance, what might you be doing? 

Well, during pandemic times I have been studying energy systems as described by the chakra system and Chinese traditional medicine. I became a Chakradance facilitator and am completing a course on sound vibrational tuning right now. Want your chakras tuned?

What might people be surprised to know about you?

I have a business degree from UBC and a performance diploma of violin from the Vancouver Academy of Music.

What is your next project?

I have commissioned Josue, the Cuban composer to compose the entire series of De Ida Y Vuelta songs to share with the Vancouver public, and also so I can continue my flamenco journey with new musical inspiration this year. Historically, when the Spanish traveled to Latin America, they picked up influences from Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay and many other countries. What emerged was flamenco hybridized with Latin percussive grooves and flavour. My music includes Guajira from Cuba, Vidalita from Argentina and my flamenco singer Jafelin has a collection of many exquisite Boleros. We are preparing flamenco with a Latin American flavour for you all. When this pandemic allows, we shall be partying with Latin grooves and flamenco at Kits beach! We need a reason to smile.

I am also researching some secret but epic flamenco contemporary hybrid with Alvin Tolentino.

And I never know what Julie-anne from Small Stage is up to…she made me dance in a #LoveVancouver neon pink bubble downtown for a month and whatever she does, I’m in because I Love Vancouver!

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The Dance Centre presents the Discover Dance! series
Mozaico Flamenco
Streaming on Demand: Thursday April 15, 2021 | 12 noon PST – Wednesday April 28, 2021 | 12 noon PST
Tickets: $0/$10/$20 sliding scale (pay-what-you-can)

Book Tickets

Photos: The Dance Centre, Sanka Dee