CENTRE STAGE: Just Words melds poetry and dance; flamenco, Irish tap, and belly dance share the stage in Encuentros

Just Words explores the importance of dance as an art form.

Just Words – Les Productions Figlio

April 27–30, Firehall Arts Centre

Serge Bennathan steps to the front of the Firehall stage, a spotlight on him as he picks up a sheet of paper. He reads off a letter that he wrote to fellow choreographer and dance artist Grant Strate who passed away in 2015. The letter shows his respect for Strate as he says “we need your grace,” as well as his thoughts on the importance of dance as an art form.

In personal, reflective interludes, Bennathan spoke directly to the audience and shared parts of his life: his experience as an immigrant, his desire to write a blog, to choreograph chaos, and he even shared an original poem with us. His words coloured the choreography as Karissa Barry and Hilary Maxwell translated the words into dance. Aside from directing his Vancouver-based dance company, Les Productions Figlio, Bennathan is also a writer and painter, and with this latest work he wanted to express himself through words and speak poetically. The love poem he shared with us, in French and then in English, was full of beautiful imagery and romantic tension.

Barry and Maxwell, dressed in black pants, tank tops, and sneakers, were at times dancing in sync and at times in opposition, pushing against each other and throwing each other aside. The steady pace of the choreography was neither overly physical nor lacking in intensity, and Bennathan was able to augment his words through rigorous movements.    

Bennathan danced with Barry and Maxwell at a couple points during the show, but for the most part he stood at the side of the bare stage while they danced. Sometimes he urged them on with directions such as “vas-y,” and traded places with them to share more of his words. With fervent choreography and thoughtful poetic interludes, this show was much more than just words.

Encuentros – Kasandra Flamenco and Caravan World Rhythms

May 1, Vancouver Playhouse

Kasandra “La China” and her ruffled red dress swirl and dip in unison. Her dance partner is the long train of her dress, following her every move as she skillfully maneuvers it. When she is joined onstage by another flamenco star, Ricardo Lopez, the dress envelops both of them in a gentle hug.

Kasandra is the artistic director of Encuentros, as well as her own company Kasandra Flamenco. Her concept for this one-night show was to bring together Irish tap dance, flamenco, and Egyptian belly dance to highlight their percussive similarities and have dancers face off in passionate encounters.

Kasandra and Lopez shared a couple of particularly passionate scenes; you sensed that they felt the rhythm in their bones and were completely in tune with the onstage musicians. One of their duets featured an innovative costume piece that kept them connected: they each wore a small vest connected by a long piece of fabric. As they danced the fabric wound around them and helped to visualize their patterns and symbolize the relationship being portrayed.

Representing Irish tap was Vancouver-based Joel Hanna, who has performed with Riverdance and has some of the most virtuosic footwork I’ve ever seen while making it look easy. He must have been working hard, though, because at one point between lightning fast footwork sequences he looked at the audience and said with a sigh, “It’s hot!”

Hanna and Lopez shared an intense scene teasing and challenging each other with increasingly difficult steps. Like an impromptu jam session between musicians, their steps shared the same rhythm and mood but displayed the different qualities of their respective genres. Kasandra had her own dance duel with belly dancer Ashley Kirkham, whose undulations and microscopic vibrations were impressive. It was interesting to see the rhythm represented through the hips and torso in belly dance, as opposed to through the feet and hands in flamenco.

Another essential element of flamenco dance is the live music. Guitarist Gareth Owen, singer Vicente Griego, percussionists Davide Sampaolo and Tim Gerwing, and Oud player Serwan Yamolky provided the perfect accompaniment to the movement.

Cries of “Ole” and “Bravo” could be heard throughout the show. It was wonderful to see these four soloists who are experts at their craft sharing a stage and showing us how their grounded, rhythm-infused styles can work so beautifully together.