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Next up in our Discover Dance! series is Calle Verde + Jhoely Triana Flamenco. We sat down with Michelle Harding of Calle Verde and Jhoely Triana to discuss their careers in dance, the flamenco scene in Vancouver, and what we can expect at the upcoming performance.
When and how did you discover flamenco?
MH: As a young girl, I was attracted to all things I thought of as Spanish, especially the costumes and the bravado.
I formally discovered flamenco in the mid-1990s when I saw a performance at the legendary (now shuttered) Kino Café on Cambie Street. Peter Mole was playing guitar, Jose Lara was singing and there were two dancers, one of whom really moved me. Her name is Karen Boothroyd. She was so confident, so expressive, so embodied. She represented everything I thought I could never be, and I thought to myself: “Whatever she’s got, I want it!” I started taking lessons a few years later.
JT: I had seen flamenco throughout my childhood through some live performances and videos, but my first official dance class was at the Scotiabank Dance Centre Open House with Oscar Nieto around 2006. Then in 2008 I happened to walk by a house by pure coincidence and heard music and stomping. I went up to the house and asked if they taught – and it was Oscar’s house!
Briefly describe your dance career to date.
MH: I started ballet at age four and stuck with it for about ten years. I studied many types of dance like jazz, what used to be called “modern”, improvisation, and music theory. I didn’t take up flamenco until I was 31. I was immediately addicted. My first teacher was Oscar Nieto and after 23 years, he is still my mentor and I continue to marvel at his generosity, curiosity and creativity.
I’ve been a member of several flamenco dance companies, a teacher, performer, and choreographer. I’ve studied in Spain several times for extended periods thanks to funding from the Canada Council, and in Greece and the US. I’ve been fortunate to tour and teach across Canada from BC to Newfoundland and Labrador.
JT: I studied at Goh Ballet in high school and then completed my bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts – Contemporary Dance from SFU. I switched to flamenco after I graduated and went to Spain to visit Triana, which is a neighbourhood in Sevilla, to find out more about my name and ever since then I have been studying and performing.
I completed my training through Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy, and began my independent dance career in 2018 when I began creating my own choreographies through The Dance Centre’s 12 Minutes Max program.
How would you describe the flamenco scene in Vancouver?
MH: Before the pandemic, Vancouver was the only city in the country (as far as I know) with regular dedicated flamenco venues, the longest-running and most significant of which was the Kino Café. These “tablaos” were where most performers cut their teeth and really learned the ropes about teamwork, holding your own, and being able to roll with whatever happened in the moment.
Now, with those opportunities few and far between, there are community leaders making exceptional efforts to maintain the vitality of the flamenco scene by holding special events and taking advantage of local festivals and other opportunities to get themselves and others out on stage. However, it is not the same as regular performance, week after week.
JT: The flamenco scene in Vancouver has such a wonderful history that I’m constantly learning about. The dedication to the art form has really made it known across Canada and internationally. The Kino closing was a huge loss for the community. But thanks to wonderful mentors such as Oscar Nieto, Rosario Ancer, Victor Kolstee, Gary Hayes, Peter Mole, Kasandra Lea and others who started and nurtured the scene decades ago, new generations have been able to grow.
Tell us about the work you’ll be sharing for Discover Dance!
MH: Calle Verde will be presenting a short program with some mixed elements. The focal point is a piece called La Faena we created for a short film project funded by Canada Council that we expect to release later this year. We are adapting it for the stage – an entirely different approach from creating for the camera.
JT: My work Arboles (Trees) explores the metaphor of trees, how we can find strength from our roots, persevere through hard times and reach out towards community for hope.
The aim of this work is to create dialogue about our lived experiences with our community and spread the seeds of empathy and compassion. I invite the audience into the universal language of emotion, and connect with them through flamenco to share themes of hardship, perseverance and determination.
What might people be surprised to know about you?
MH: People are often surprised to find out that I’m Canadian. There have been countless times when audience members have been aghast to discover that I’m 100% British heritage and fourth generation Canadian on my mother’s side.
I have a Master’s in English and Medieval Studies and I used to teach Chaucer, Shakespeare and Religious Studies at SFU. The range of jobs I’ve worked over the years can also come as a surprise – to name a few: seamstress in a garment factory, restaurants, retail, construction, cleaner, librarian, office manager, erotic toy marketer, technical writer, editor, telemarketer.
Perhaps not so surprising is that I’m an introvert at heart and I treasure my time alone. But give me a stage and an audience and I love it! I’ve been like that all my life.
JT: I was born in Colombia and came to Canada as a young child. My last name really is Triana (not a stage name) which is a neighbourhood in Sevilla, Spain which is well known for its history of flamenco.
It is not a common last name in Latin America and I was very excited when I learned it held such regard in the flamenco scene. Once I knew more about Triana I just had to dedicate myself to flamenco.
The Dance Centre presents the Discover Dance! series
Calle Verde + Jhoely Triana Flamenco
Thursday November 9, 2023 | 12 noon
Scotiabank Dance Centre
Photos by Kasandra Lea and Juan Contreras
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