MEZQUITA: Thoughts on Performing Again

La China’s Point of View
March 8, 2009


I sit at my computer console at 12:37am on a Sunday night thinking soulfully of the week’s events leading up to my performance in Pena Buleria’s “Mezquita” at the Kay Meek Theatre in West Vancouver on March 6, 2009.

Alas, the aftermath of a big show is always a letdown for a performer.  It’s weeks of practising for approximately 20 minutes of glory…ok, maybe 23.
On Monday, the guest artists from France, Cristo Cortes and Manuel Gutierrez arrived.  We had a production meeting that day, but this was largely unproductive from a choreographic dance point of view.  My only concerns were, Where is the guitarist?  What falsettas is he going to play?  Who’s singing?  And what letras am I getting? 
I found these questions, basic as they were, were not to be truly answered until the actual performance.

Let’s not deny who I am, ok? I am a Type A Sagittarius with a Virgo Rising.  To boot, I have Chinese roots, am a B Comm university grad, an ex-corporate project manager for sales and marketing.  Although I have left the corporate life, let’s not kid ourselves.  Linear thinking and organizational skills were already intact before I became a flamenca.

Mezquita-Kasandra-2009-3Today people call me an “artist”.  What the hell does that even mean?

I guess I am an artist.  I see shapes, swirls and movements when I think of dance choreography.  I am also a finely tuned musician and listen to flamenco with my ears wide open.  I have a lot to say.  Flamenco is a creative and expressive outlet.

Is Flamenco movimiento o ritmo o sentimiento?

But I am used to mounting choreography and working with a dance company where things need to be tight (or “toit” as Austin Powers would say).  Therefore, I was barely able to appreciate having superstar singers sing different letras for me in rehearsal.  In fact, I found the gitano, organic, festero, flamenco way of working nonchalant and even disturbing.  I mean, it’s one thing to improvise a dance at the Kino Cafe where I can just get another chance to redeem myself the following week.  But improvising in a live theatre show with 500+ attendees?   Nooooooo.  Too risky.  Too scary.  Not doing that.

I would say I lost about 5 pounds worrying about this from Monday to Wednesday.  I was feeling badly about working with the guest artists, self esteem shrinking by the day, insecure about my musical ability or ability in general, and just feeling sorry for myself.  It was not until Thursday I kicked myself in the a**, actually gave my head a shake and took an entirely new attitude about it…which was f*&% choreography and just get some coraje and channel Manuela Carrasco.  This is Flamenco.

Riesgo = Danger, risk.

Riesgo.  Interestingly in Manuel Gutierrez’s workshop this week, he talked about “risk”.  He says he has to improvise in every solo, every performance because when he doesn’t know what he is about to do, it pushes him.  He has to take risks, big risks, in his baile each time because it is only when you “risk” that you know what you are capable of doing.  It is only when you “risk” everything that you can become stronger.  That is Flamenco.  Que filosofia.


My biggest challenge was thinking about my bulerias letras.  The group had agreed that I’d dance 4 letras of bulerias.  I’d do an escobilla, then Cristo would sing one and then Pirouz, then I’d do more escobilla, then Cristo would sing one and then Pirouz, and then I’d finish the dance off with more escobilla.  So that’s 4 letras.  That’s a lot of letras.

I teach Bulerias por Fiesta class on Monday nights and I basically had to follow my own advice to my students…the KISS principle.

Not completely knowing if the singers Cristo and Pirouz WOULD actually sing the letras they SAID they would…not completely knowing whether I would get breaks to do remates or llamadas…I would definitely have to have an arsenal of several llamadas to pull out of my a** in the moment.   That’s what they say in Flamenco, “be in the moment”.  The funniest thing is that I had to follow my own advice to my students.

In the weeks leading up to the show, I had prepared at least a dozen awesome and tricky cool llamadas and remates por bulerias to do “just in case” I had to pull them out in the moment.  Funnily, all these were far too complicated, too fast, too cerebral and too much footwork to ask my body to do in the heat of the moment.

So what did I end up reviewing the day before the show?   All of my bulerias material from Jerez.  WOW.  Generally, this is the stuff I teach students because it is simple rhythmically, very clear, relatively simple to do, and the body language is clear.  Thank you, Ana Maria Lopez and Jerez…muah.

I basically lived at Oscar Nieto’s house all week in his studio.  There is a reason Oscar is my mentor.  He is always there for me when I need him most to give wise counsel and support.  Oscar had to listen not only to my footwork banging but also to my whining and crying.

In the end, dear Oscar said, “Chica, the Jerez stuff works the best…but Kasandra, you have to get angry.”

Angry. Angry?  I had to think about this a bit.  I can’t just get angry.  Crap, I am generally a very happy person.  What’s not to be happy?  Today I have a great family and a job I go to each day where I all my friends and dance flamenco.  What to be angry about?

So I tried being angry.  I felt stupid getting angry in front of Oscar’s mirror.  (One of the reasons why I didn’t continue drama in high school.)  But you know, once I thought about it I was angry.  Angry at not having sufficient rehearsal time.  Angry at the changing letras.  Angry at the guitar falsettas.   Angry angry angry.

But the real anger came when I thought about giving birth to Jassmone and the doctor was going to emergency C-section after about 13 hours or real labour.  I had already said NO twice yet I found myself in the labour room signing an emergency C-section consent form under duress.  (This is a whole other story…)  So that was the anger I ended up using to get through the solea por bulerias.

What is different about me now?

I would say having a baby has changed my style of baile in many ways.  Being able to truly be angry is one.  The other is patience.

Mezquita-Kasandra-2009-4Dancing before, I was really eager to move, eager to rematar, like I had ants in my pants and I had to be moving all the time.  Now, I feel in my baile, I can have the presence of mind to simply stand.  I can close my eyes and feel the cante.  There is so much power in flamenco but that power is in the dignified silence.  Less is more.  (As a footnote, I think I have only truly ever cried twice watching flamenco.  One was a Solea by Maria del Mar Moreno.  The second was another Solea by Eva La Yerbabuena.  Both because they were able to be still.)

I had to also alter all my costume choices.  I don’t know why but all of a sudden my sleeveless dress wardrobe makes me feel cheap.  I’ve got mountains of sleeveless dresses in my closet but none are appropriate anymore because I’m a mom.  So I hired a costura to make lace sleeve blouses, vests with fringe and mermaid ruffle skirts for me.  And I looked smashing.

Also, instead of the loose wild hair from 2 years ago, my friend Edie Orenstein created a low bun with single rose.  I think I am happy looking this way.  It’s still sexy, but now I feel distinguished and expensive.   Luckily for women, we just get better as we get older in flamenco.  The older we are, the more experience and depth we possess.  We can just do less footwork and more “dancing”.

Despite all the turmoil and drama for the week, I came out of it in one piece and now I can say I’m BAAACK.

There was once a time I never thought I’d be back to my old self but I’m performing again and having a great time.  I am glad that the Mezquita show pushed me so, and thanks to my friend Pirouz de Caspio for encouraging me to bailar.

Moving forward, I can say that I have learned very valuable lessons about flamenco, about myself and about the arte.  Perhaps it is time to abandon choreography and live in the moment now.

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