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Compañía Azul flames on with flamenco 

Compañía Azul aims to evoke strong feelings with their newest show that explores the pull between land and sea.

Left to right: Bob “El Torguga” Sutherby, Ian MacMillan, Megan “La Azulita”, Sean Harris, Daniel MacNeil, Sandra Tziporah. - PAUL VIENNEAU
  • Left to right: Bob “El Torguga” Sutherby, Ian MacMillan, Megan “La Azulita”, Sean Harris, Daniel MacNeil, Sandra Tziporah.
  • Paul Vienneau

Flamenco. It's a centuries-old art form that has its roots in southern Spain where Andalusian Gypsies first used solo voice, and later added guitar and dance, to express the pain of persecution.

It's also a wonderful medium for telling stories of all kinds, says Dan MacNeil, guitarist and composer with the Halifax-based flamenco troupe Compañía Azul. "Flamenco came about as an expression of pain, sorrow and joy," explains MacNeil. "It's emotionally driven, but you can put any story to it."

As an example, MacNeil mentions a piece about a fisherman that will be performed in Compañía Azul's upcoming, untitled show on September 20 and 21 at Neptune's Studio Theatre. The lyrics, which were written by the company's singer Sean Harris, explore the familiar maritime theme of the pull between life on the land and life at sea. "I dance the ocean," says Compañía Azul's founder and principal dancer Megan "La Azulita" Matheson when asked if the lyrics to the piece are interpreted literally in the dance. "The story is told in the lyrics"---which are in Spanish, but translated to English in the program"---but the dance is all about the emotions. I dance the feelings."

Matheson, who is also executive director of Dance Nova Scotia, describes flamenco as an art form that has the ability to evoke strong feelings from the audience, and also offers a meeting point of emotion and passion. She likens its style to modern dance in terms of the variety of expression it offers.

Azul's new show is made up of music composed by the group's six members--- Matheson, MacNeil, Harris, guitarist Bob Sutherby, percussionist Ian MacMillan and dancer Sandra Tziporah, who worked together. The show will also include a string trio, a unique addition that MacNeil describes as "a first for flamenco in eastern Canada."

In the last year, Compañía Azul gave sold-out performances with the Victoria Symphony and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. "We were so inspired by our symphony concerts that we wanted to do something similar here," MacNeil says. "So we've taken the concept of what we created there and changed the presentation. With that, we've put together what we hope will be a unique, unforgettable experience." And the experience is being made even more unforgettable by the fact that it's being recorded by sound engineer Dave Hillier for release on an album.

"The foot work of flamenco is like another percussive instrument," Matheson says when asked how dance portion of flamenco translates to a sound recording. "It's something that people can hear and visualize when they listen to the music."She is particularly excited to be performing and recording the show at the Neptune Studio, which she praises for its intimacy and the hollow area of the stage that is "perfect" for flamenco dance.  

The Halifax show is just the beginning of a busy time for the group. Immediately afterwards, Matheson will head to the Calgary International Flamenco Festival to open for renowned flamenco artist Olga Pericet. And immediately after that, Compañía Azul heads to St. John's, to perform at Contact East, an Atlantic Canadian theatre, music and dance showcase. While MacNeil is reticent to name his favourite piece from the show (he says there are at least four or five that are in the running), Matheson doesn't hesitate: "There is a guajira that I just love. The guajira is a laidback form with a Latin American feel, but this particular one is especially laidback. I get to really indulge in the movement."

Compañía Azul
September 20-21, 8pm, $24/$27
Neptune Studio Theatre, 1593 Argyle Street

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