Australian Dance Reviews

Pepa Molina’s ‘Perceptions’: A refreshing take on Flamenco

Jesús Fernández, David Vázquez, Marco van Doornum, Paco Lara and Pepa Molina in 'Perceptions'. Photo by Heidrun Löhr.
Jesús Fernández, David Vázquez, Marco van Doornum, Paco Lara and Pepa Molina in 'Perceptions'. Photo by Heidrun Löhr.

Riverside Theatres, Sydney.
20 July 2023.

The world premiere of Pepa Molina’s Perceptions, presented by FORM Dance Projects at Lennox Riverside Theatre on Thursday July 20 as part of Dance Bites 2023, was an intimate and refreshing take on Flamenco. It explored perceptions around the art form, including intricacies, superstitions, and clichés of Flamenco’s past and present and invited the audience into a cultural space of curiosity, humour and flawless rhythms. Molina collaborated with renowned guest artists from Spain, award-winning Flamenco dancer Jesús Fernández (director, choreographer and performer) and Flamenco singer David Vázquez (singer) to bring this production to life in a rhythmically inducing manner. The soundscapes were created by Paco Lara Puerto (guitarist and composer), Marco Van Doornum (guitarist) and Jesús Mañeru (electro acoustic composer).

Molina, a Western Sydney Flamenco dancer, is a passionate artist whose focus is on collaborating with other national and international artists and bringing communities together to develop and share the art form. With Andalusian heritage, Molina is respected internationally with over three decades performing for major companies such as: Rafael Amargo, Paco Peña, “Los Losada”, Manolete, Arrieritos, “La Mariquilla”, Juan Andres Maya, Marcos Flores and Pan American Symphony Orchestra. As a multi-award winning founder and director of dance company “Compañia Pepa Molina” established in 2004, her productions have toured Europe and the globe. 

The evening commenced with enchanting vocals as Molina and Ferñandez graced the stage with grounded feet and subtle sways, leaning into the captivating melodies by Vázquez. This led into the rhythmic pulse of Soleá performed by Jesús Fernández, who was dressed in black relaxed pants and a tucked in white shirt with small polka dots, followed by Spanish guitar which was played by Paco Lara and singing by David Vázquez. Fernández emulated the intensity required of the style, and presented strong and precise upper body work, posture and arms. In La Caña Molina held her form with a focus on footwork and shifting of the weight, remaining completely stable both in rhythm and style throughout the choreography.

Pepa Molina in 'Perceptions'. Photo by Beatrix Molnar.
Pepa Molina in ‘Perceptions’. Photo by Beatrix Molnar.

Together in Paso a dos, Molina and Fernández in their duet challenged traditions in costume and roles – Molina was dressed in a black sequined bolero, mesh top and pants which placed a spotlight on her stylistic form and feet. Injected with contemporary moves, which punctuated the piece throughout, levels were explored, with shoes off feet held in hands instigating the beat.  Other props such as a table were introduced to generate rhythms as the artists including Marco van Doornum (guitarist) gathered around whilst expressions provided subtle comedic elements in the narrative which is not often seen in the serious and intense art form. What I enjoyed about Perceptions was the cheeky element and interactions the dancers had with each other on stage, offering the audience a fresh take and a chance to laugh amidst the intensity. 

Flamenco is an original art of Andalusia (where Molina’s heritage extends from) and its birthplace Seville. The Flamenco triangle is between the cities of Cádiz, Jerez de la Frontera and Triana in Seville, and it is believed to have mixed bloodlines from various cultures and influences such as gypsy, Arba, Christian and Jewish. Traditionally, Flamenco is known to be comprised of Cante (singing), also known as palo, Toque (guitar playing), Baile (dance), Jaleo (singing and choruses), Palmas (hand clapping) and Pitos (finger snapping) and castanets (which I have never been able to master). Flamenco connects deeply to emotion – a style of dance which expresses passion, romance, lamenting and bringing comfort to those that dance and experience the intoxicating rhythms. 

Having been exposed to my Spanish heritage and exposed to Flamenco classes in Australia along with shows in Granada and Sevilla, Spain, I was able to appreciate what the artists on stage had created – fusing the traditional and contemporary – and had worked so endlessly to achieve. However, there were moments that I began to question why more people hadn’t attended this brilliantly rehearsed show. It was evident by the audience’s reaction that they too had heritage, or had engaged with the art form on some level, and understood the narrative being expressed due to cultural and creative understanding. However, judging by the half filled theatre, it became apparent that there is a greater opportunity for further cross-cultural education – an exchange which needs to be extended to both the dance community and local community, and this is what presenter FORM Dance Projects is setting out to achieve. FORM’s program spans four key areas: presentation and producing, education, community engagement and audience development. The interconnectedness of these activities is vital for a wider appreciation of Australian dance culture in a shifting contemporary context. FORM exists to provide opportunities for Australian independent dance artists to create, experiment, present new work and connect with audiences. 

With such a rich history and evolution, leaders such as Pepa Molina and Marina Tamayo – my former Flamenco teacher who was also in the audience, and who featured in the movie Carmen – have been paving the way here in Australia to share, educate and expose more people to Flamenco. Molina notes, “A contemporary revolution is taking place in the art form of Flamenco; it’s fresh, bold and questions the established. I have a need to experiment and create cross-cultural work, to challenge the established and question the rigidity that lies in the traditional Flamenco form (which I love and respect).”

Having a contemporary background in dance and adoration for tradition, I enjoyed the refreshing mix of contemporary notions, fused with the traditional execution. Generally, in the Flamenco style, red is often the colour of choice, and represents bravery, strength, vitality and passion. However, in Perceptions, Molina wore the most incredibly constructed yellow dress with weighted layers and frills. She notes, “Yellow: traditionally to wear yellow is bad luck, something that my mother has ingrained in us…it was bad luck to wear yellow on stage.” However, as times have changed, she notes, “Today, you can see younger generations wearing yellow on stage, and it’s fine.”

The iconic yellow Flamenco dress she wore on stage was designed and made in Sevilla, and consists of multiple layers of heavy fabric, which came with her all the way to Australia. Throughout the show, she also uses a yellow hand-embroidered silk shawl from Foronda (since 1923) Seville, the master craftsman of the Manila Shawl. 

Perceptions is Molina’s second Dance Bites production, following “Bush Bailando” premiered by FORM Dance Projects in 2016, to rave reviews and earned Molina the 2016 Dance Australia Critics’ Choice for Most Interesting Artist. 

As one of the leading presenters of independent dance in Sydney and Australia, FORM is the place artists come to premiere new dance work and realise their artistic vision. They support artists at all stages of their career, develop their national and international profiles, and provide valuable professional development opportunities. Their signature Dance Bites program is acclaimed for its eclectic curation, showcasing a wide range of choreographers working across diverse styles – from the innovative and experimental to the popular and accessible. The works of experienced, more established artists are placed alongside those of promising newcomers.

By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.

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