Flamenco artist Rosario Toledo teaches master flamenco class

Negotiating an intricate web of stomps, turns, jumps, arm movements and weight transfers, attendees of world- renowned Flamenco artist Rosario Toledo’s Master Class this Tuesday in LPAC’s Boyer Dance Lab succeeded in stringing together a series of complex moves to master a coherent sequence of flamenco steps. This Master Class, which was free to the public, is a part of the larger two-week “First Philadelphia Flamenco Festival,” held at Christ Church Neighborhood House in Philadelphia.

Rosario Toledo, a renowned flamenco dancer and choreographer, taught a flamenco class in conjunction with the Philadelphia Flamenco Festival. (Raisa Reyes/The Phoenix)

Flamenco baile, or dance, is thought to have originated in southern Spain. It is characterized by its emotional intensity, fast footwork, and focus on rhythm. Many different forms have emerged since it originated; some flamenco artists focus on more classical, “pure” forms of the dance, whereas others incorporate modern innovation and styles. It is a complex genre, with professionals training for many years to achieve the precision of movement demanded.

Elba Hevia y Vaca, executive and artistic director of the Philadelphia-based female flamenco troupe Pasión y Arte, began organizing the “First Philadelphia Flamenco Festival” two years ago. It is rooted in Hevia y Vaca’s vision of 21st century flamenco, which seeks to break down some of the stereotypes surrounding the dance form. One of the main events is Pasión y Arte’s performance of Toledo’s original piece, “Cómplices,” commissioned specifically for this dance troupe. Work on the piece began last summer, when Toledo traveled from her home in Spain to start setting the choreography with the dancers. It was completed over the course of a three-week residency prior to the start of the festival this year. “Cómplices,” which translates to “accomplices” in English, is described as “capturing the pulse that connects one woman/all women” on the festival’s website; Pasión y Arte works to portray both contemporary and feminist influences in its flamenco performances.

In addition to “Cómplices,” the performances include the US premiere of “Del Primer Paso” (“The First Step”), performed by Toledo and company. Master Classes at Temple University and Bryn Mawr, a free film screening featuring two documentaries, and a symposium with World Music Institute Founder, Robert Browning and former Artistic Director of the Colorado Dance Festival Michelle Heffner Hayes supplemented the performances, providing additional insight into the art of flamenco.

Danielle Greenberg ’15, who was introduced to flamenco through a course at Swarthmore, attended the Master Class with Toledo at Swarthmore. “I loved it,” Greenberg said of the class. “I wish more people would’ve taken it, especially guys, because we covered a lot of individual moves but there are also partner moves we didn’t get to cover.”

With a wide range of abilities and an almost all-female class, Toledo built from the ground up, with the first 45 minutes focused on arm, wrist, and torso movements, followed by an introduction to stomping and stepping. With 15 minutes left on the clock, she threw in jumps and turns, and led the class in putting the different movements together. In addition to introducing the basic mechanics of flamenco, she encouraged dancers to “fill up” their movements, emphasizing “fuerte,” or strong, hips and torsos. Speaking mainly in Spanish, it was up to Hevia y Vaca to translate, although oral instruction took a backseat to modeling and mimicking.

Final performances of the festival will take place tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. at the Christ Church Neighborhood House, although the shows are expected to sell out beforehand. For more information, visit their website: www.pasionyarteflamenco.org.

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