Marijke Walker – Flamenco Dancer

Comments (0) Interviews

Flamenco Dancer … teacher, performer, choreographer.

> How did you first discover Flamenco?

My affair with Flamenco began with Antonio Vargas’ footwork and intensity capturing my attention during his performance in ‘Strictly Ballroom’. How could a person’s feet move so quickly, while the torso remained strong and the arms fluid?

However, it was not until I saw my first live performance fifteen years ago in Toronto, Canada that I was entirely captivated. The powerful movement and emotion expressed by women and men in Flamenco was something I wanted to capture and express myself.

> When did you start practicing Flamenco yourself?

I escaped the Toronto autumn and winter of 1994 in the studio of Ms Paula Moreno, learning the foundations of Flamenco. Unfortunately, an expiring visa and return to Australia placed my studies on hold – at that time, Port Macquarie did not provide the opportunity to pursue this art form further.

It was not until I moved to Perth in 2001 that I had the chance to step back into nail-plated shoes and place castanets on my fingers at Danza Viva.

> Was it difficult to return to your studies?

It was very challenging at first; Ms Deanna Blacher’s standards were exacting. As a new student, you were encouraged from the outset to emulate her polished technique and to quickly learn sequences of steps. During my six years there, movements eventually formed dances, and the building of a repertoire that covered a broad range of Spanish dance from Ms Blacher’s Spanish Dance Institute syllabus.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the beautifully choreographed performances and inspirational workshops conducted for Danza Viva by teachers and choreographers from Australia and abroad, including the artist who captured my interest in Flamenco, Antonio Vargas.

In action

In action

> What other experiences have shaped your performance?

The teachings of Ms Blacher and the exposure to other styles and interpretations have been very beneficial. Not only did they enhance my Flamenco experience in Australia, but they gave me the confidence to attend classes in Spain as part of a world trip with my daughter Mikaila in 2004.

Tasting the flavour of southern Spain and Flamenco in our daily lives for two weeks in Seville remains one of my favourite memories. We walked around the old city, ate tapas in outdoor cafés and attended late night Flamenco shows in the lovely small courtyard of Casa de la Memoria de Al Andalus. My favourite dancer, Lidia Valle, exemplified the importance of expression and audience interaction to draw spectators into the performance.

> Did you and your daughter attend classes in Spain?

Mikaila and I enrolled at the school of Manuel Betanzos in the suburb of Triana, one of the centres that was the birthplace of the gypsy cantes (Flamenco songs). Manuel Betanzos was a brilliant teacher, focusing on style, presentation and attention to detail with footwork. The classes were hard, required concentration, and practice in-between with fellow students.

The other class I took in the evening was a Bulerias. The teacher was a woman named Soraya, who had lots of power and high expectations. On my last day at the school, our regular guitarist was joined by another guitarist, a singer and cajon (drum) player. It was incredible – a true taste of the richness of Flamenco.

Mikaila participated in children’s Sevillanas classes two nights a week and loved them too. The teacher was impressed with her exceptional footwork, arms, hands and style – an indication of the standard taught at Danza Viva.

> Were there any other memorable experiences overseas?

When we concluded our time in Europe with a week in Madrid, I was fortunate to participate and enjoy eight hours of intermediate classes at Amor de Dios, the school of Spanish Dance and Flamenco. My wonderful professors were Merche Esmeralda (technical and choreography), Manuel Reyes (Bulerias) and Paco Romero (Classical Español).

Flamenco has also provided the opportunity to teach children and adults in Australia and abroad. In Tanzania, while volunteering at the School of St Jude in Moshono (near Arusha), I approached the School’s Director, Gemma Sisia, about wanting to spend time with children in the classroom.

She agreed to my teaching 75 Year One students the Sevillanas – a jovial form of Spanish dance enjoyed at Spanish festivals – as their music program for the semester.

What a lot of fun we had! When I arrived with my CD player, the children would start screaming with delight and pushing back the chairs and tables. From haphazard rows, resounding claps and little voices chanting ‘1, 2, 3’ helped keep the enthusiastic children in time.

Somehow we emerged from the chaos and laughter to perform our own Spanish festival at assembly in front of the entire school.

> Have you started teaching again since your return to Australia?

Since my return to Port Macquarie nearly two years ago, I have been teaching an adult open class at La Vive Classique. I really enjoy the Wednesday night classes and appreciate the dedication and enthusiasm of my students.

They performed one of my choreographies at the La Vive concert last year and had a fantastic time. My students inspire me to keep learning and improving my technique so that I can extend their knowledge of Flamenco and assist more effectively with their individual Flamenco journeys.

> Apart from your teaching, are there other ways in which you share and express your Flamenco techniques?

I also enjoy performing and sharing my passion for Flamenco with others. In Perth I performed with Ms Blacher’s Spanish Dance Company at the Octagon Theatre (University of Western Australia), in Fuego Fuego, a tribute to poet Federico Garcia Lorca (2003) and in Flamencomania and the Spanish Celebration (2006).

I had just as much fun performing at numerous other events in Perth, including school fetes, women’s gatherings, community events and Telethon.

> Are there any favourite performances of yours that come to mind?

My favourite performances in Port Macquarie have included the opening of Glasshouse Flowers function at Mi Casa, the Melbourne Cup luncheon at Rydges, local Spanish resident Concha’s 100th birthday celebration, the opening of the Ross Family Studio and my own birthday this year at Rydges, where I finally had the chance to perform for my family and friends with my good friend and former Danza Viva student, Alison Lunt.

> What do you love the most about Flamenco?

My affair with Flamenco remains a passionate one that is filled with both frustration (particularly when trying to master a difficult piece) and much joy – especially when connected with an audience, fellow artists or students. I love drawing energy from the earth and transforming it into dance … making the connection with a cante (song) and bringing it to life through movement … the spiritual exhilaration felt when guitarist, singer and dancer are as one … the power and emotion expressed in even the most subtle gesture.

I love the way Flamenco brings people from a variety of backgrounds and stages in life together and provides the chance to befriend so many wonderful like-minded and inspirational people.

> Who would you recommend Flamenco to?

Flamenco is open to everyone. It is an art form that brings people together and embraces a cross-section of human emotion through song, dance and music.

If you have not experienced it before, re-visit Antonio Vargas’ dusty platform scene in Strictly Ballroom. If something about it grabs you, please contact me about classes, workshops or performances at Birdfoot Studios on 0406 316 589 or by email: birdfoot@bigpond.com

> Thank you Marijke.

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