Flamenco in Schools - Part 1
The Australian Flamenco scene has firm roots in the academic world of regular adult classes and workshops.But across Australia every year, a high school or college will find the funds to commission a flamenco teacher and bring to life a Spanish or Flamenco flavoured production.As we launch into a new year, this five part series titled 'Flamenco in Schools' will focus on the student audience and and take a closer look at flamenco through the eyes of flamencos who are involved in teaching flamenco in Australian schools. We will examine flamenco through the eyes of flamenco instructors, drama teachers and students.In 2008, flamenco dancer and teacher, Tatiana Bistrin worked with a group of girls from Loreto Mandeville Hall and boys from Xavier College in Melbourne which resulted in a performance of Lorca's 'Blood Wedding.' We will be publishing Tatiana's thoughts and perspective in Part 2 followed by an interview with Kym Maclean, senior drama teacher at Loreto Mandeville Hall in Part 3.In 2010, choreographer, Annalouise Paul was awarded an Artists in Schools Residency funded by the Australia Council and ConnectEd (Arts NSW). I was curious to know how school students compare to teaching and instructing the adults that typically attend a typical flamenco class in Australia...Here is my Question and Answer session with Annalouise PaulQ: What is your experience in teaching flamenco and how has this changed over the years?
"I’ve been teaching flamenco for about twenty years but have never had my own school. It’ s always been short courses, special projects, workshops, privates, etc. It takes enormous commitment to start a school… and I have simply moved around too many times to do this. My teaching methodology is broad but clear. I am absolutely committed that everyone should walk out with something from every class. Maybe it’ s a sense of growth. More information. Self esteem in tact. It’ s the way I was taught - with generosity and respect and its what I want to pass on. These days I start with rhythm - as a concept and a tool. The first thing I say is ‘ we are half dancer-half musician’ and we must know what we are doing musically so we can communicate with guitarists and singers alike."
Q: Do you think students need a carrot for performance?
"I guess a show or performance might be a carrot to come to class or even to stay in class but performance is a natural progression at any stage whether its a month, year or five years of learning, dancers must perform in order to develop further and reap fruits of their own labour. The other side is they get confused if they think the show is the be-all and end-all. They forget about process and the joy of learning and the idea that once a show is done, well, its back to class!"
Q: Is it easier working with kids or adults?
"Kids. Hands down, no baggage they pick up easily and there are no strings attached. But when you have the right adults… the ones that really want to learn and understand the arte of flamenco, and of dance… that is pure joy to be able to share and grow with them over time."
Q: How different is it working on a theme or story versus teaching an ongoing class?
"Very different. Different challenges, outcomes and expectations. Ongoing class is for stamina, teaching a routine you have done hundreds of times and making it interesting or finding the newness in it. I love and adore story and themes, that’s my training also, as an actor and dancer. I have done a wide range of projects as well as my own works, most recently Isabel, about Queen Isabel La Catolica. Its fantastic to draw on themes like Lorca’s poetry. I created two flamenco contemporary works from his Poet in New York collection for the London Contemporary Music Festival in 1988 and was commissioned to do Blood Wedding at Guildhall School of Music and Drama and later Carmen. I also performed in Carmen with LA Opera and the original production at Earls Court that eventually came to Australia in 1988."
Q: What was last school project about?
"Sevillanas was a new project I began a few months ago at Prairiewood High School in Western Sydney. The Artists In Schools Residency Program is about the learning that happens in the process of art making and working with a professional artist, which schools rarely have opportunity to experience. It is an Australia-wide initiative funded by Australia Council in partnership with Department of Education and Training and ConnectEd in NSW."
Q: Why did you choose Sevillanas as the theme?
"Sevillanas is simply about the journey of Sevillanas as a social dance. I was in Spain a year ago and went to Feria in Seville for the first time. It was magical. Of course lots of drunken squalor but still very dream-like for me. Sevillanas was a great way to discuss ideas about dance and society today since originates back to the court dances of16th century and as a ‘living’ culture it is a perfect example of a folk dance that has stood the test of time, its pretty special."
Q: How did you get around the time constrains of working in a schools curriculum.
"The dance teacher and I were able to combine our weekly goals, which made for a very efficient process and project. They created and rehearsed the material with me and it reinforced as part of their schoolwork and assessments. This project wasn’t simply about learning ‘Sevi’. I taught them the first copla only which they adapted into other dance vocabulary. Because of protocols around flamenco I focus on the elements that have less potential to be misappropriated. Themes revolve around the idea that tradition has a place in contemporary society as much as innovation. Peter Kennard created a beautiful contemporary Sevillanas score from the basic structures in the 6/8 or 3/4 time signature, which was pretty foreign to most of the students who knew only about krumping and So You Think You Can Dance?"
Q: And finally... With the public performance now over! I am dying to know how it all went?
"It was fantastic. Truly. The kids performed beautifully, the music and costumes were brilliant and DET said it was a 'stunning result'. So no complaints. We just had a combined performance with other schools at Casula Powerhouse and maybe I’ll get to work with another school later down the track."
Final Comment: It just occurred to me there’s probably another good reason I don’t have a school, and maybe why I am attracted going from project to project… I get to see all kinds of bodies working, all kinds of ideas floating and not always knowing what I am capable of until I do it. Its exciting stuff. Ole!To contact Annalouise Paul you can visit the www.theatreofrhythmandance.com website.
Photos by Heidi Smith