I Found Dance Through Flamenco by Yinka Esi Graves

This is an extract version of the full article which can be found in Identity and Choreographic Practice available at our online store.

The freedom and limitation in Flamenco depends on which space you occupy and which people you identify as or with. I would fit into the foreigners’ category, but being Black I sit on the peripheries of that too. When we keep in mind that whatever category you fall into there is a mimicking game of all trying to represent the same thing in an attempt to adhere to or belong to the widespread construct of what Flamenco is or more importantly who creates Flamenco. Although more confusing, and perhaps more arduous, it feels like a privilege to be free to discover or allow my own identity to unfold. I’m never going to pretend to be a Spanish Gypsy. I can only ever be me, dual heritage Ghanaian and Jamaican British.

There is a huge contradiction that plagues Flamenco dance as I see it, speaking from where I stand today. As a form, I believe it is vast. It really allows for each individual to let their bodies interpret as is unique to them, so long as the very specific codes and music are understood, the idea of communicating with musicians and tapping into the management of energy that takes place in flamenco. The form, free of all the socio-political context which I’ve spoken of, makes it an extremely open genre. But nothing exists without its socio-political context. What we find is that it is often the category that people identify with or as that determines their choreographic voice and even their vocabulary.

As the form evolves there are increasingly artists who are simply interested in exploring their unique voice. Opening the vocabulary that they employ, completely outside of the categories that Flamenco will accept as Flamenco. So more recently we hear of ‘Flamenco contemporaneo’, at the hands of incredible artists such as Juan Carlos Lérida, Israel Galvan, Andres Marín, Rocio Molina, to name the most important artists currently on the scene. However, in its essence to me, even if the vocabulary and invariably the aesthetics might be different, they are still dancing Flamenco. The unique relationship to rhythm and connection to ‘palos’ keeps it Flamenco in my eyes.

On a personal level, once I started taking my dancing more seriously, as in accepting that I too could be a flamenco dancer, I knew that I would have to create my own opportunities to develop and improve, in other words, to perform. Quite literally, getting into the spaces where Flamenco is performed, that I keep mentioning, as a foreigner, is very difficult. As an outsider that looks like one, it’s even more difficult.

As I understand it, in an attempt to conserve Flamenco as it has been known, more energy is spent trying to define it according to what and who it includes and excludes, despite being a form that is born from the coming together of Spanish, Gypsy, West African, Moorish and Jewish cultures in Andalucía. This tension between those interested in limiting its boundaries and the very form itself, which is rich and complex in its diversity, has been the very tension that has shaped my dance experience so far. It has very much influenced the work I have made to date. The journey I am on has made me acutely aware of the need to create structures that need to redress understandings inherent in colonialism that have us wanting to partake in the same structures that have in the past excluded minorities. There is a false notion of diversity, that it is something new to be aspired to. But the world, art, expression has always been diverse. It is the representation of it that isn’t, hasn’t been. It is important to know this, people to really feel their experience and that their perspective is valid. This is something that has to be defined and redefined.

Full article which can be found in Identity and Choreographic Practice

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Yinka Esi Graves

Yinka is a British Flamenco dancer. Her dance journey has taken her from ballet, jazz and African Cuban dancing at a young age, to studying Flamenco in Spain in the world-renowned school Amor de Dios with artists such as La Lupi, Manuel Reyes and Pepa Molina. She has performed with Santiago de Cuba’s Folklore dance troupe, Ikache, and Cristobal Reyes’ Flamenco Company at the Royal Albert Hall and Teatro Calderon in Madrid. Since 2011 Yinka has been performing in tablaos and venues such as Candela (Madrid), Upstairs at Ronnie Scotts (London) and La Sala Zero (Seville). Yinka co-founded dotdotdot dance alongside two other flamenco dancers in 2014. In 2015 Yinka began working with former principal Alvin Ailey dancer Asha Thomas on CLAY.