Over Facebook, I learned that Maria Bermudez (stage name La Cha Cha) was going to be performing in Victoria BC on July 9th 2011. I remembered her performance that I saw in Jerez about 5 or 6 years ago. It was a memorable performance for several reasons. It was a fantastic experience for me to see somebody who is not Spanish and did not grow up in Andalusia dance at the highest levels of flamenco in the Festival Flamenco de Jerez, which then gives hope to somebody like myself that I have a chance to get this crazy flamenco thing. In that performance, Maria Bermudez, was the star dancer in an ensemble of all male dancers. I thought that was both a creative and a smart idea. By surrounding herself with male dancers she heightened the natural feminine beauty and elegance of her dancing. The performance I saw many years ago was so memorable that I couldn’t wait to go see her again. I have been meaning to take my kids to Victoria on vacation for a few days anyways during the summer holidays. This was the perfect excuse to make a family vacation and pack in some flamenco all in one neat little package. On Friday July 8th, I packed my three children and my mother into my car and the five of us headed towards the ferries which would transport us to the beautiful Vancouver Island.
After a walk about Victoria city and dinner at Milestones, my eldest daughter complained of a health problem. I ended up going with her to nearest Emergency department at the Jubilee Hospital seeking medical attention. Luckily my daughter was not classified as a top emergency at the hospital, which meant that we were placed at the bottom of the priority list, where people with more life threatening ailments were being seen first. Although I found the 4 hour wait in the Emergency department frustrating, I felt grateful that my daughter did not have a condition that warranted immediate attention. The doctor did finally see us in the end and medication was prescribed. We left the hospital past midnight and I managed to get lost in the unfamiliar city. I had to stop twice to ask for directions and was pleasantly surprised with how nice and helpful each person was. I don’t know if it is the small town factor or if it is something about being an island. I didn’t encounter a single mean person during my stay in Victoria. “Are all Victoria people this nice?” I thought to myself. We did finally get back to our hotel and I finally got to bed around 1am, thinking how this turned out very different from what I had imagined this trip would be about. A visit to the emergency department was not on my itinerary plan.
The next morning I woke, everything seemed better. My daughter improved on the health front, the sun was shining and Victoria city was inviting us to explore her charms. Some sightseeing and mandatory trinket, tourist junk shopping was had when I accidently saw three dark men walking about the city talking in Spanish. There was something about their body language, their appearance that made me think “these are flamenco people, I bet these are some of the performers I will see tonight. At some point my kids demanded to have pizza for lunch. I don’t like pizza and I tried to convince them to get something else, the three kids persisted. I remembered that I saw a pizza place right across the street from the hotel we were staying at and I bought two extra-large pizzas there. I took one slice and had a bite and to my shock my taste buds didn’t shriek in unison “No, no, no,not pizza!”. Instead my taste buds were saying “mmmmmmmmm, this good”. So I had a few more bites to confirm and indeed this was the best tasting pizza I ever had in my life. The place is called “The Joint” on Warf Street and I am telling you, they make magical pizza. One doesn’t expect to have a culinary experience in Victoria, but one was had nevertheless. I need to go back there and ask them to reveal the secret of their great tasting pizza.
Finally the time came to go to the show and the flamenco mood was starting to come back at this point. All three kids informed me earlier that they are not going to yet another flamenco show and my mother decided to stay with them. That meant that I was going solo, which is a ok with me. I guess we can’t all be flamenco fanatics. I got all dressed up and my mother lent me a new ring she had recently purchased that went with my dress. It is a red crystal covered lips detail top of a ring. I put the ring on, which made me feel super sexy and headed out. This was my first visit to Victoria’s Royal theater, a lovely and beautiful venue for a show. In the lobby I recognized a bunch of Vancouver people, turns out that many had the same idea and decided to combine a vacation or a family visit with flamenco interest. It was a delight to see familiar faces among the audience. Also in the lobby was a display by a local artist that paints flamenco dancer. His name is Nicholas Pearce and his acrylic paintings were on display both in the lobby and on stage. It doesn’t surprize me one bit that a visual artist would be inspired by flamenco.
My earlier hunch in the streets of Victoria was confirmed. I had spotted guitarist Jesus Alvarez, singer Miguel Rosendo and singer Antonio de Jerez. Jesus Alvarez guitar playing was pure magic. He poured power and fluidity into his virtuosos, yet accompanied dancers with a light expertly touch, that the guitar was barely there at certain points. Accompanied with brilliant hand clapping (palmas) of the two singers the trio generated so much excitement and energy that it was sufficient to build a whole show around. Already I was in flamenco heaven but when Miguel Rosendo started to sing I was catapulted into a blissful place where everything is exactly the way it should be. Miguel’s voice was strong, yet sweet. I am sure that flamenco gods where nodding with approval at his artistry. As if all of that was not enough to make me happy … out came Maria Bermudez in her full glory dancing like a queen. She was every bit as exciting and compelling as I remember her from the Jerez performance. It is hard to find words to describe her dancing, she is everything that a flamenco dancer should be. Grace, power, passion, beauty all mixed into one. Maria has a powerful stage presence that was palpable, her connection with audience was sending electrical sparks all over the place. The other dancer of the evening was Domingo Ortega who infused his dancing with humour and cheeky moves that I enjoyed. For a split second he was dancing like Zorba the Greek, few seconds later shrugging his shoulders and playfully ignoring the beckoning of the music which elicited laughter from the audience. Humour is not frequently used in flamenco dancing, but in this case it worked and didn’t detract from the serious aspects of it. Domingo danced powerfully and expertly, but I felt that he stared at his shoes for long sections of his dance and therefore failed to establish the same connection with the audience that Maria Bermudez had. There was lots of power in his dancing, but not enough stage presence.
All in all it was a fantastic show that left me wanting more.
As I drove home back to Vancouver, with Lady Gaga playing on my CD player at my children’s insistence instructing us: “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen”, I thought about how lucky I am to live in a corner of the universe where such magical experience are possible.