Jill Tunbridge (centre)

Chasing the elusive ‘duende’

Flamenco del Mar Festival celebrates 10th year

Time flies, as they say, when you’re having fun.

For Jill Tunbridge, founder, artistic director and choreographer of the Peninsula-based Flamenco de Mar Spanish Dance Studio, it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s more than a decade since she began the enterprise, after years of studying and teaching the form.

It’s equally hard for her to realize that the Flamenco del Mar Festival, which she will present to Coast Capital Playhouse Friday, Sept. 2 and Saturday, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m., is the 10th edition.

Quite apart from communicating Tunbridge’s sheer love of the endlessly fascinating dance and music idiom to local students of all ages, one of Flamenco del Mar’s key accomplishments has been creating an atmosphere, particularly in festival performances, in which even professional flamenco artists feel at home.

As Tunbridge has trained her dancers technically, she has also fostered in them a feeling of family. And they have responded with a passion and a fire that has suggested the elusive quality of ‘duende’  – a transcendent level of expression in which dance and music fuse seamlessly – is increasingly within reach.

That magic was in the air as I sat in on a session in which two of her guest artists for the festival, guitarist Peter Mole and cantaor (flamenco singer) Farnaz Ohadi, ran through musical cues with Tunbridge (also on the program will be well-known local nuevo-flamenco guitarist Doug Towle, plus guest dancers Bev Montovani, on Sept. 2 and Veronica Stewart, on Sept. 3).

Listening to the powerful, authentic acoustic guitar of Mole, the rough-edged, impassioned vocalizing of Ohadi and watching the precise yet percussive dancing of Tunbridge as sun filtered into the small studio on 154 Street, it was hard not to imagine that an hour in South Surrey had become an afternoon in Southern Spain.

Both Mole and Ohadi have appeared in several Flamenco del Mar productions, qualifying as extended family, too. The South African-born Tunbridge has known Mole since she first moved to B.C. in 1994, and her 2007 festival was the cantaor debut of Ohadi – a classically-trained pianist and dancer of Persian heritage, who had been experimenting with flamenco under the guidance of Oscar Nieto.

“Jill took a leap of faith with me,” Ohadi said. “I’m always happy to come out to do shows. It’s great to see the dancers grow over the years – and I’m keen to hear people’s reaction to my growth.

“Jill’s shows are interesting because they pull a lot of different artists, a lot of different styles together. That’s a good thing, because in festivals it doesn’t always happen.”

“It’s always fun to come out and support the flamenco community,” Mole added. “It’s been great to see it grow out here and have a little niche all of its own.”

Ohadi, Mole and Tunbridge agreed that the Flamenco del Mar shows are a little misleading, because for all their apparent spontaneity, they need to be rehearsed.

“But In the heart of the flamenco artist is always the sense of knowing you could just sit down and make it happen,” Tunbridge said.

“If the guitarist is strong enough to follow the singer, and the dancer is really listening, then you have that feeling.”

Tickets ($20 advance, $25 at the door, plus $2 service fee) are available from 604-536-7535, at whiterockplayers.ca and the Coast Capital Playhouse, or call 604-542-2096 or email flamencotickets@hotmail.com

 

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