La Bolivianita, Storytelling Meets Tutelage

by Emma Elsmo for The Dance Journal | photo credit Morgan Carreon

An audience of young and old gathered this past Saturday night in celebration of the art known as Flamenco. Pasión y Arte’s Elba Hevia y Vaca presented her latest work-in-progress, La Bolivianita, at Vox Populi, a curious space filled to the brim with intriguing artwork and colorful characters. As the crowd filed slowly into the theater space, the palpable level of excitement for the magic to come contagiously flowed throughout the room.

With an air of drama, the audience sat surrounding the make-shift stage space inspecting the objects laid out without explanation. A skirt, a shawl, a jacket and a hat added dimension and vibrant color, and Elba Hevia y Vaca’s entrance only further enhanced interest. The work began with a striking percussive rhythm emanating from Vaca’s singular body as she showcased her intensity through a complex series of clapping and stomping. Viewer fascination grew deeper as we attempted to discern the patterns within her movement and facings.

Once she finished her introductory rhythms, Vaca presented a series of statements and questions about the true nature of Flamenco dance. The emotion, the passion, the strength and feminism behind what she does as a performer and master of the craft was visible to all based on her communication both physically and linguistically. Her enchanting ability to address the group with the intent and clarity of a professor addressing her class mixed so perfectly with the undeniable beauty of a storyteller weaving her web.

She told tales of her heritage and her birth in Bolivia. She discussed the political strides being made for indigenous Bolivians. She painted pictures of all the strong women in her life—her grandmother, mother, and aunts— and illustrated the importance of recognizing these female role models having grown up in a patriarchal society. Her continued perseverance only deepened the audience’s admiration of her personality and passion. And with each story she unveiled a layer of personal development as well as informed us about the story behind Flamenco’s development in history.

As she worked her way through the props and costumes, Elba Hevia y Vaca exposed herself with compassion and vulnerability. The poetry behind the subtle movements were both powerful and delicate, and the stories that corresponded moved the audience to bouts of laughter and gentle sighs of agreement. From motherhood to empowerment, she swapped between driving music and silence in a fluid manner creating a space of dynamic sound and strength.

The duality between choreographed movement and humorous conversation allowed for an unexpected feeling of inclusion. Despite the fact I had no wealth of knowledge about the history of Flamenco dance and the principles it stands for, I left knowing the necessity for the artform universally. I hope to see an expanded version of this work in the near future, because the short piece she presented has left me craving more.

About Emma Elsmo

A Chicago native, Emma Elsmo has been dancing since the mere age of two and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She began her formal dance training at the Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park and has spent three summers training under Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's professional programs, as well as one summer spent with Deeply Rooted Dance Chicago. Currently, she is happy to be a part of several projects being created in the Philadelphia area. A lover of all things art related, Elsmo is currently getting a Bachelor's in Fine Arts from Temple University.

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