OGDEN — How often do you get a chance to shout out a hearty “Ole!” at a classical dance concert?
That opportunity is coming next week.
Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana, considered the nation’s most prominent flamenco and Spanish dance company, will perform Tuesday evening in the Browning Center at Weber State University. The group has dedicated itself to honoring the traditions of the art form while also taking it in exciting new directions, according to co-founder Carlota Santana.
“For somebody who’s not seen flamenco before, sometimes they’re a little shocked, sometimes they’re wonderfully surprised,” said Santana, who, with Roberto Lorca, formed Flamenco Vivo in 1983. Following Lorca’s death in 1987, Santana continued their mission to promote flamenco as a living art form and an important part of Hispanic heritage.
Flamenco has its origins in southern Spain, although Santana said the dance has been inspired by any number of cultural influences. And unlike other classical art forms, audience feedback in the midst of a performance is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. Santana says the dancers feed off that input.
“I like to tell people, flamenco is unlike the classical movement,” Santana said. “If you’re watching a flamenco concert and the dancer does a quick stop (in the middle of the dance), you are allowed to clap and — if the spirit strikes you — shout out ‘Ole!’”
Flamenco, Santana says, has everything to do with rhythm and movement. And emotion. She calls it a “universal art form” because of the emotional connections it fosters between the performers and the audience.
“That’s why, even if people have never seen flamenco before, they can hook into whatever the artist onstage is projecting,” Santana said. “Because every one of us has been happy, sad, angry, or whatever emotion is being shown.”
Tuesday’s performance will feature five dancers — three men and two women. The evening will feature a combination of solos and duets. The group also travels with two guitarists and two singers.
Songs are performed in Spanish, but Santana reassures folks that language won’t be a barrier.
“Sometimes it’s hard to understand, even if you speak Spanish, because just like in opera they stretch out their words,” Santana said. “But behind the singers singing — even in a different language — the audience gets the feeling behind the flamenco.”
The Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana performance is part of the group’s “Reflejos Flamencos” national tour, which starts in Minnesota before traveling to Utah, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Mississippi.
Santana says the tour’s title translates to “Flamenco Reflections.”
“It’s a little bit of looking back, so you can reflect on the past,” she said. “But also, it’s about where you’re going down the road. You reflect on, ‘Gee, where do I want to go from here?’”
Santana said the program, which features all-original choreography, will include more traditional dances as well as pieces that will be “a little bit modern-ish.”
For example, in the first number on the program, dancers will wear shoes on their hands.
“And they’re doing rhythms with those shoes on the floor, and hitting them together as if they were an instrument,” Santana said. “That’s kind of an introduction to flamenco as people know it or will see it. Flamenco has a lot to do with how we use our rhythm and how we are a part of the earth.”
Although she won’t be attending all of the group’s stops on the upcoming tour, Santana said she’ll be in Ogden for “a couple of interesting things.” Along with a community master class, Flamenco Vivo will also perform for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.
“That one’s very exciting for me,” Santana said.
Outreach and education is a big part of Flamenco Vivo’s mission; Santana, whom Dance Magazine called “the keeper of flamenco,” believes the dance form is especially suited to young people and children.
“Flamenco is such an emotional and rhythmic art form that it gives kids a vehicle to express themselves,” she said.
And Santana confesses that fifth-graders are her favorite group to work with at a school.
“A fifth-grader is mature enough to do what you ask them to do, and young enough to not be afraid to try it,” she said.
To those doubters who might claim boys don’t “like” dance, Santana suspects that’s only because they’ve never been exposed to flamenco.
“With a fifth-grader, if you tell him to extend his arm out strong and hit the floor as hard as he can with his foot, he’s going to enjoy that,” she said.
Santana hopes to see an enthusiastic audience in Ogden for Tuesday’s performance, ready to explore the exciting world of flamenco and Spanish dance.
“This is not a classical music concert,” Santana said. “If you feel like you want to applaud or shout? Go ahead.”