A flamenco revival hits Adelaide’s festivals

With flamenco starring on the Adelaide Festival and Adelaide Fringe stages, The Adelaide Review looks at three local Spanish dance companies keeping flamenco’s flame alive.

The stamping feet, flirting fans and proud carriage of flamenco dancers are immediately exciting. The 2018 Adelaide Festival brought us a taste of the newest take on the style by the highly original Israel Galván. This year, the Adelaide Festival, WOMADelaide and the Adelaide Fringe are all in on the act – a couple of Carmens and two local groups, Studio Flamenco and Alma Flamenca.

Areti Flamenco usually performs a Fringe show, and, with Studio Flamenco and Alma Flamenca, makes up three of Adelaide’s leading Spanish dance studios. All give student shows of professional or near-professional standard, with the head teachers participating and guest artists, both singers and dancers, mostly from interstate and overseas.

Areti Boyaci opened her studio in 1999 in Norwood’s Odeon with “a handful” of students. She is still based there, as well as at the Dulwich Community Centre, and has about 55 students. Having learnt ballet, in her late teens she was rocked by a flamenco film adaptation of Garcia Lorca’s tense drama Blood Wedding. “Oh my God!” she exclaims. “It was one of the most amazing dance films I’ve seen! I was incredibly moved, inspired.” She began classes with Adelaide flamenco pioneer Roger Hicks, went to Spain and returned to begin teaching.

The usual cast in Boyaci’s productions includes seven to 10 women and a male dancer from interstate, and it has been rewarding to see how certain students have developed in skill and temperament over the years. Areti’s shows are notable for their stunning costumes – the secret is that one of the dancers, Catherine Ziersch, has worked with couturiers George Gross and Harry Who.

In 2009, Boyaci and her partner, guitarist Werner Neumann (“We’re a duo,” she says with her generous smile), were invited by Marilyn Rowe, then head of the Australian Ballet School (ABS) in Melbourne, to create a Spanish course. Continued under current head, Lisa Pavane, this has led to Areti’s choreographing Spanish dance for both main and student companies. Involvement with this year’s ABS summer school left no time to prepare a Fringe show.

Asked why she took up Spanish dancing, Roshanne Wijeyeratne, born into a musical Sri Lankan family, impishly replied, “Because my mother made me!” Like countless others, at 16, Wijeyeratne had been learning ballet, tap and jazz, but her mum had seen a picture of flamenco dancers and decided that was for her daughter.

Flamenco Areti
Flamenco Areti

Asked about different styles of teaching, Wijeyeratne ponders the question then says, “each teacher develops their own style but gravitates towards a style that resonates with them … A Madrid style is to me more balletic [demonstrating with her arms] and technically driven. Then in Seville and Andalucia, it’s a little more raw – still highly technical but it has a more earthy, Gypsy feel”. Basing herself in Seville, she also trains and performs in Madrid and Granada, but it’s the Seville style that “resonates most” with her.

Wijeyeratne’s 2004 initial enrolment of five students now varies between 30 and 50, and they learn to dance with live guitar and singing. She produces shows with her company Alma Flamenca as well as school performances. When she spends three or four months in Spain, as she does regularly, her senior students take over. The effervescent Wijeyeratne runs two studios, one in Thebarton, the other in Melrose Park. For Fringe, Alma will present Ida Y Vuelta at Lion Arts Centre.

As a young adult, Emma Fernée also learnt classical ballet but, she says, “I saw some flamenco on a film and I thought ‘that looks like something interesting’ – the music and I suppose the expressiveness of it appealed to me, so I went and took some classes.” First from a “lady called Atita” then from Hicks and Liana Vargas. She now gets to Spain every two years or so, basing herself in Seville, where she feels the flamenco is closer to its grass roots than it is in Madrid.

Studio Flamenco was established in 2004 in Clarence Park by Fernée and her sister Susi Masi with “four or five kids and seven or eight adults”. The current number is about 45 including Daniel Lyas, now in his 20s, who came up through the school, and is the only locally-trained male who teaches and performs. But there are three boys learning now.

Studio Flamenco, which will present Recuerdos at Lion Arts Centre this Fringe, gives an annual school performance, two or three with a company of eight to 10, and “other things that come along – festivals and community events and that kind of thing. We’re doing a small tour to Kangaroo Island (KI) in April, and that should be fun.”

It will be flamenco’s debut on KI.

Studio Flamenco, Alma Flamenca and Areti Flamenco are contributing to the burgeoning, heel-tapping vitality of Spanish dance in Adelaide.

Studio Flamenco: Recuerdos
Lion Arts Centre
Friday, March 1 to Sunday, March 3
studioflamenco.squarespace.com

Alma Flamenca: Ida Y Vuelta
Lion Arts Centre
Saturday, February 16 to Sunday, February 17
almaflamenca.com.au
flamencoareti.com

Header image:
Studio Flamenco: Daniel Lyas, Susi Masi, Gabi Baltic, Satoko Kelty, Yasmine Hilton
Guitarist: Marduk Gault
Photo: Sophie Abbott

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