"People think of flamenco as Spanish, an Andalusian dance form, and it did develop in Spain. But actually it's not very Spanish at all. It's a mixture of the cultures that were living in Spain: the Moors, the Jews, the Gypsies, not really the Europeans. There is some European influence, but that's a very small part of it," says Ilisa Rosal, dancer, choreographer, and founder/artistic director of fourteen-year-old La Rosa Flamenco Theatre. Rosal, a proponent of what she considers "pure flamenco," an ever-evolving form that can contain elements of rumba, tango, and even guajira rhythms deriving from Cuba and South America and from bits of American jazz, likes to throw the dances of other cultures in the mix, too.
In the past Rosal has melded flamenco with classical Indian dance, Middle Eastern moves, plus jazz, blues, and tap. This weekend her company will perform a program featuring popular visiting dancer José Junco from Spain, as well as the local Afro-Haitian music and dance ensemble Ayabonmbe, which will participate in the world premiere of the piece Juerga Kaware, a fusion of flamenco and Afro-Haitian music and dance. What may seem like an odd combination to some is second-nature to Rosal, who explains that flamenco has distinct African roots.
A founder of the umbrella organization Performing Arts Network (PAN), which provides rehearsal, office, and performance space to a number of local arts organizations and presents a yearly performance series, Rosal met the members of Ayabonmbe three years ago when they arrived at PAN. After observing their work she began getting ideas for a collaboration. "I saw so many similarities with flamenco, the rhythm, the roots," she says. "Both dances were really the voice of the people when they were oppressed by society. They had a lot in common, and since they represent cultures that are very much a part of our community, I thought it would be really relevant and interesting to present this work here." Owing to the fact that the most of the Ayabonmbe members had never heard of flamenco dancing, nor did many of them speak fluent English, the process was somewhat difficult.
"We all speak the language of rhythm together," notes Rosal, recalling that they communicated through sign language, music, dancing, and counting, and ultimately succeeded in forging a new form. "Those who are fortunate enough to be exposed to this will come away with a whole different way of looking at our community, the people that they come across."