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A display of passionate dance

Kasandra 'La China's' La Tarara brings two of the best Spanish male Flamenco dancers to Whistler



Vancouver flamenco dancer Kasandra "La China" is amused to hear that on my only trip to Madrid years ago, I stayed with a friend who lived upstairs from a flamenco school.

The rhythmic intense clattering of 15 dancers on the floors below us was like synchronized thunder.

A dancer of the passionate style for over 20 years, Kasandra understands that this is a noisy experience.

"Ha, ha, ha! That must've been fun," she says.

She is rehearsing for the world premiere of her latest show La Tarara, which takes place on May 4 in Vancouver.

La Tarara will be performed at the Maury Young Arts Centre on Saturday, May 6, at 8 p.m.

"La Tarara is the name of a song, a group of songs. This is a branch off of a project I had been doing since 2006. The show is about having conversations," Kasandra explains.

"And it has allowed me to work with world-class male flamenco dancers."

"It's really exciting because there are no male professional dancers in Canada. I dance in restaurants in Vancouver and the first thing I am asked is 'Where are the men?'"

Kasandra and dancers Ivan Vargas Heredia and Emilio Ochando, both of whom came from Spain especially to take part, will perform.

She says Vargas Heredia comes from a Romany background and performs the "purest," most traditional flamenco, while Ochando has a wide range in dance, including ballet and folk, and is more modernist.

"Ivan's family comes from a long line of flamenco dancers and in this show he is depicting flamenco puro, which flows from the genre's roots. He's really fiery and it comes from the heart. The form embraces form and expression more than the technical work," Kasandra says.

"In contrast, Emilio is an award-winning dancer and choreographer who comes from Madrid, which is the epicentre of flamenco. The best-trained dancers end up there because most of the teachers are there.

"They both started at a very young age."

One of the attractions for Kasandra in creating the show was to be able to explore the differences in styles and what this implies on a greater level.

"I think Canadians have an important message to tell the world in this day and age when people are being pitted against one another; I think multiculturalism is extremely important," she says.

"Our culture is our strength. Everyone in the show is a flamenco artist, but we all have very different backgrounds. This is the kind of show that would never happen in Spain because they are separated. Their paths would never really cross."

Kasandra is Chinese-Canadian (her surname is Lea), and she discovered flamenco at the recommendation of teacher Gwen Thompson while studying classic violin at the Vancouver Academy of Music. Her teacher thought it would bring greater understanding to her playing.

Kasandra says: "You juxtapose the Chinese-Canadian flamenco dancer into the scene and people start to question if I have the ability to be doing what I do. Well, I've been doing it for 20 years, I've made eight trips to Spain, doing two or three trips at a time. And world-class dancers are coming here to be in my shows.

"In the end, what makes flamenco? It is an expression of one's self."

The coming together of these differences is what audiences of Kasandra's shows see.

"I'm going to dance several styles in my show (traditional and contemporary), because here in Canada we can't be pure, we have to take all the artists that we can come across and study with them. We're not born into the tradition, also we can't pick and choose instructors to mentor us for five or 10 years in a row," she says.

"Our show is the spectrum of the epochs of flamenco."

She is pleased that two of the best will be accompanying her to Whistler.

"Male flamenco is incredible; the passion and the art of it," she says.

Flamenco is also a team effort, says Kasandra. Joining the dancers will be musicians Gaspar Rodriguez, Cyrena "La Sirena," Davide Sampaolo, and flamenco singer Vicente Griego.

Tickets are $22.50 for Arts Whistler members and $25 for regular admission.

For more information visit www.kasandraflamenco.com or www.artswhistler.com.