There’s a rhythmic pounding in the room, like a tribal drumming. It marks the beat for young dancers performing flamenco on stage at the Domino Theatre. It’s part of the School of Dance Let It Snow performance.
The flowing arms and fingers and the gentle swooshing of the dresses contrast the staccato beat. The dancers twirl, then gracefully but forcefully open fans. It’s exotic and earthy in the same moment.
Their teacher, Anthea Morgan, appreciates their hard work and understands that to become a dancer a lifestyle of discipline is required.
“It takes years and years of work when everyone else is watching TV,” she said. “It never lets go of you. My parents gave up so much for me.”
Morgan grew up dancing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I grew up on Botafogo Bay in Rio, during the military dictatorship,” she said. “My mom and I danced on the beach along the water. I used to go for sleepovers in the favelas and we danced, samba.”
She explained that the movie City of God took place in the same time period in different favelas (shanty towns).
“Similar worries,” she said. “The ocean, the sun, and dance − I think kept us all whole during that time, reminded us of the goodness in life and of being together. One can always look to nature to inspire.”
But what is flamenco? Anthea explains it with a story.
“In Cordoba, Spain, just outside the Mezquita at one of the archways at night, a man started to sing, flamenco, as he got to one of the archways. When he finished, he turned to those around and said, ‘This gate always makes the song come out of me.’ He then walked off with his partner and disappeared into the night. Flamenco….the song comes out of one….not one sings. That is flamenco. One learns the language, then when one is deeply touched by something eternal there is a way of sharing that moment with others.
“Flamenco encompasses so much,” she said. “The controlled passion, mystery and honesty are unique to flamenco. It’s about sharing, expressing feelings. It’s not showing off. When you dance flamenco, it’s OK to be sad, to dance like you’re sad. Moments of comedy and joy come together. It’s about sharing feelings we’re not always comfortable with.”
She said she loves flamenco and Spanish culture because of the respect for the human body.
“With flamenco, you get to dance as you. Flamenco allows you to love your body as it is.”
In 2010, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized flamenco as a World Heritage Treasure. Morgan said that will help flamenco survive and grow.
“There are more elements of ballet in flamenco now,” she said. “It is changing. Years ago, you would never see a man do a triple attitude turn and come out into flamenco. It is evolving.”
Anthea Morgan has lived the life of a dancer since childhood. The former National Ballet of Canada and Royal Ballet dancer teaches ballet and repertoire at the Kingston School of Dance. At her own studio, 1000 Islands Flamenco Spanish Dance Company & School, she teaches flamenco, Spanish classical, Sevillanas and Spanish folkloric dance. Sevillanas are social dances that don’t require a partner. They can be danced solo, in pairs or in groups.
Prior to retiring from her dancing career, along the way she shared the stage with Rudolph Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Karen Kain.
At the age of 16, Morgan left Brazil after landing a role with the Royal Ballet in London, England.
When she was 18, her family moved to Canada. Morgan wanted to be closer to them.
“My teachers said, ‘If you really don’t want to stay in Europe, audition for the National Ballet [of Canada].”
Morgan spent a week auditioning with the Canadian company. She landed a contract and danced with them for seven years.
“It was a great time to be in the company,” Morgan said. “Karen [Kain] was in her prime. We travelled and toured a lot.”
With the National Ballet, Morgan danced in front of thousands of people, night after night.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to dance for 3000 people and uplift them, to give them something,” Morgan explained. “For three hours you’ve taken them away from somewhere, on a journey, and they came back feeling better.”
To her, this is the artistic ideal.
“Art should be redemptive and uplifting.”
She explained that flamenco training is difficult.
“There’s an intricate rhythm to learn,” she said. “It’s like jazz, a structured improv. Not everyone wants to spend that much time learning the rules.”
The specific form known as flamenco is the music, song and dance of Andalusia in southern Spain, rooted in gypsy music.
“Flamenco is like Canada. It’s a culture of many cultures,” she said. “It has its origins in India, then travelled across the Middle East to Europe.”
The region of Andalusia in southern Spain provided creative ground for flamenco music and dance to develop. Catholic, Judaic and Islamic Moorish cultures came together to influence gypsy dance form, which is rich in embellishment and improvisation.
“They’ve found peace there. It’s created something beautiful,” said Morgan. “Flamenco doesn’t have a vast repertoire of steps, so the beauty, and challenge, is to invent new ways of using a few basic steps. They are steps that come easily to us, so it is organic and accessible. At the Alhambra (in Andalusia), one sees that a few simple materials, an infinite amount of creativity and hard work create something timeless. My goal as I get closer to 50 is to make my flamenco like the Alhambra: a few steps to create something beautiful.”
She’s been teaching dance in many forms − ballet, flamenco, Spanish, folk dance, and others—since retiring from the National Ballet.
She’s willing to visit schools to talk about healthy ballerina and dance culture with young children. She inspires them to dance.
She understands that art, design, costuming, lighting, music and theatre are intertwined. She hopes to see diverse arts come together.
“The arts need to intersect,” she said. ”We need to get back to dancing in the open market squares. We need more collaboration in the arts. All need to work together when there is limited audience capacity and performing opportunity. Dance and theatre need to be more visible in places where the tourists are, outdoors, like one sees in Europe. The culture in the markets in Spain was high quality, entertaining and respectful of the many needs of the market area.”
Her attitude toward dance has evolved. She’s inspired to pass on the skills of dance. Her own mentor and teacher, Irine Fokine, died in December 2010.
“I feel a greater responsibility to carry on the tradition,” said Morgan “AnIrine was the last of the Fokine’s. Her mother trained Robert Joffery. Her uncle choreographed ballets that are still danced by the world’s great ballet companies. Her godparent was the legendary Anna Pavlova. One feels a greater responsibility to pass on that lineage as one gets older and as my teacher’s generation passes away. We thank our teachers by sharing their legacy and we hope to inspire future artists and audiences.”