Marcando el terreno: A Crash Course in Flamenco and Feminism

by Olivia Wood for The Dance Journal

On Saturday, April 4, Elba Hevia y Vaca, artistic director and founder of Pasión y Arte, presented for the exhibition of Marcando el terreno (“marking the terrain”), her in-process solo work titled, “La boliviañita.”

The work is an autobiographical piece that serves as an introduction to the art and music of flamenco as well as a window into the life and identity of the artist as a Bolivian woman. Hevia y Vaca explains through her dancing, and through spoken word, some of the basics of flamenco music and movement: compás, alegrías, bulerías, etc. “Flamenco celebrates every emotion,” she announced to the audience.

Hevia y Vaca’s precise, strong footwork, articulate hand embellishments, and sharp glances clearly conveyed a myriad of emotions: anger, passion, heartbreak, and intense love. The rhythms created by her dancing and clapping reverberated loudly through the space, mirroring the palpitations of the human heart.

The artist’s use of the color red further emphasized this idea and strengthened the feminist narrative, as it is associated with passion, love, menstruation, the womb, etc. The black box space was preset with a small chair and three pieces of scarlet fabric pooled in opposite corners, forming a triangle. After captivating the audience by sitting in the chair and clapping and stomping a series of complex rhythms in all three directions, Hevia y Vaca interacted with each fabric while taking pauses to lecture to the audience.

The first of the costumes she donned was a traditional indigenous “cholita” jacket and bowler hat, which the Bolivian “cholitas” reclaimed as a feminist statement. Proudly holding the jacket to her heart, she performed a folk dance and continued humming the song after the music had stopped, letting nostalgia and her admiration for the women of her country wash over the space.

A vibrant “mantón,” or shawl, was the second. With this costume, Hevia y Vaca disembarked from the more classical flamenco movements and allowed modern dance to influence her choreography. For example, when she shrouded her entire body with the cloth and then used it to tie her hands, I was reminded of Martha Graham’s “Lamentation” and “Cave of the Heart,” two infamous pieces that portray an emotional struggle as well as feminine power.

The third and final piece of fabric was a “bata de cola,” a dress with a long train often worn in flamenco performances. “She feels everything—if you’re nervous, so is she,” Hevia y Vaca explained, “she requires patience.” She used the “bata de cola” to illustrate the challenges and successes of motherhood. Crawling on the floor, and shifting and shimmying, she worked her way into the dress as if trying to accustom herself to a new role.

Through her progressing choreography, Elba Hevia y Vaca pays homage to the strong women of her native country and family, expresses conflicting emotions, and recounts her journey through motherhood. With each resounding stamp into the floor, Hevia y Vaca marks her terrain and encourages the audience to feel and perceive a feminist and human narrative.

About Olivia Wood

Olivia Wood is a Philadelphia-based professional dancer, currently dancing for Grounded Aerial Dance Company and AMMDCO and has performed in several venues in Philadelphia and New York City, including the Suzanne Roberts Theater, Performance Garage, and the Guggenheim Museum. She holds her B.A. in Dance and Spanish from Muhlenberg College from which she graduated Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Sigma Iota. Olivia recently earned her certification to teach Grounded Aerial Bungee Technique in Lyon, France and also teaches dance in Sicklerville, NJ.

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