Full-time flamenco: An interview with Francesca 'La Chica'

Visiting Seville on her honeymoon 20 years ago, dancer Francesca Grima (or ‘Chica’ as she is better known) is still there, living the life of a professional flamenco artist. As Chica prepares to return to Australia for her performance in Flamenco Fire - Veinte Años in Brisbane, she tells us what it means to do flamenco full-time.

Francesca ‘La Chica’, photo courtesy of Puerto Flamenco

Francesca ‘La Chica’, photo courtesy of Puerto Flamenco

“There are many things that go with being a professional flamenco dancer. It’s not just performing, which I think is the best and the easiest part.”

Chica’s performance in Flamenco Fire - Veinte Años presented by Brisbance Festival, Red Chair and Queensland Performing Arts Centre, is just one of many the commitments in her busy schedule, albeit one she is really looking forward to. The one night only gala celebrates 20 years of Flamenco Fire and sees the company join forces with Camerata — Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra.

It’s no secret that Chica discovered flamenco whilst living in Australia, and she’s been a regular visitor to our shores ever since, giving workshops and performances such as those with Flamenco Fire as well as with her own company Puerto Flamenco. Chica is co-director of the company along with her husband Andrej Vujicic, who is the company’s percussionist.

“We have been living in Seville for the past 20 years now and definitely the first 5 years were not easy in terms of having to break into the scene and to start performing alongside local musicians and compete for places in companies, tablaos, festivals etc. There was a lot of hard work and financial and artistic insecurities especially at the beginning.”

Twenty years into her career in Seville, it would seem that her hard work has paid off. In addition to touring and performances with her own company, Chica performs regularly in Tablao Álvarez Quintero in Seville, keeping her busy with a range of tasks that come with being a professional artist.

“There’s teaching, admin, studio rental, implementing ideas for new shows, choreographies, marketing, tours, technical riders, costumes, make up, lists upon lists of constant things to do! My typical day would be admin first thing in the morning and organising the studio space which I rent out. Then it’s training, sometimes even gym and in the evening its tablao from 6pm to 10pm and then of course socialising after the tablao to wind down before going to bed. I do also have some teaching and obviously any touring or weekend performances break the routine which in some way is very much appreciated after so many hours of dancing. I practice and train 3 hours a day, 7 days a week, and no I haven’t yet got bored of it!”

Early on in her career, Chica received some important advice from Melbourne guitarist Manuel Varela: Listen to as much flamenco as possible and do flamenco only if you are totally in love with it. The moment you lose interest in it, best to stop it.

Fortunately for us, Chica is still obsessed with flamenco and continues to impart her passion for it through her performances and teaching.

“What I really love most about my job is being on stage in the middle of it, when it starts cooking and it starts to happen on its own and something else takes over and everyone is carried on this heightened emotion and spirit which is just propelling us with a wave of energy and emotion. In a tablao situation for example it is impossible to have a cluncky pre-made entire choreography. It will just not work. You really have to be in the moment, have experience and intuition to correctly anticipate the singer’s and guitarist’s intentions. There is too much emphasis nowadays on premade choreography and dance and not enough on understanding on how the dance organically develops and how it is put together organically. So seeing someone dance who has a real understanding of flamenco and is a true aficionado of all its aspects and knows how to resolve the spontaneous variations is a real joy to watch on stage. The more I do flamenco the more I enjoy the tablao improvised experience.”

Francesca ‘La Chica’, photo courtesy of Puerto Flamenco

Francesca ‘La Chica’, photo courtesy of Puerto Flamenco

Having a job that has absorbed her seven days a week for the last twenty years, it might seem that Chica had determined to go professional from the beginning. However, Chica says that being a professional flamenco dancer in Seville was not on her list of goals when she and Vujicic first discovered the art form in Sydney.

“What we never would have dreamed of is to be doing flamenco professionally in Seville. At the time that seemed beyond our wildest dreams… We both had full time jobs in Sydney and would perform mid-week and at the weekends. We would both try to spend as much time as possible listening to flamenco on our walkmans whether it was at home, at work, commuting, even falling asleep with it. We also tried to spend as much time in the local scene, hanging out and jamming with Manolo Varela, Paul Margolin, and the rest of the Sydney flamenco crew.”

Chica’s love for flamenco is clearly rooted in the music.

“I love the old singers because of their expression and the way they sing – it is much more authentic, heartfelt and truthful. They meant what they said. It was more sincere. And that creates the emotion you need to be able to dance emotionally and feel that goose flesh. I love Paquera de Jerez, Bernarda y Fernanda de Utrera, Chano Lobato, Terremoto, La Perla de Cadiz, El Torta… and dozens more… It’s also nice to listen to recordings that were live… for example Jose Valencia’s live CD Directo is great!”

Twenty years of hard work. And the journey continues. Chica together with Puerto Flamenco has several projects in the pipeline, in Malta and Seville, as well as new collaborations within the company as the show Ship of Theseus tours Oslo, Portugal, France and Israel in the coming months.

“It’s a long, hard and fascinating journey. You will meet many characters along the way. The well gets deeper, the further you go. Flamenco is much more profound than you think it is so just keep digging.”

Francesca is performing in Australia in ‘Flamenco Fire - Veinte Años’ on 26 September 2019 at the QPAC Concert Hall . Tickets are available here.