Flamenco. The word conjurs up images of swirling skirts, clapping hands and stirring music. Today, this energetic Spanish style of music, song and dance is popular worldwide, and is performed by flamenco companies in many countries.
One such company is Compañía Azul, based in Halifax. Megan Matheson, nicknamed Azulita for her blue eyes, is the company’s founder, artistic director and principal dancer, known for her lyrical arm movements and crisp, clean footwork.
Megan began her dance career studying with Evelyne Benais of El Viento Flamenco, and also studies each year in Seville, Spain. She has performed across Canada with Compañía Azul, including performances in collaboration with the Nova Scotia Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
The day I met with Megan, she was on her way to buy new earrings for that night’s performance with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. During the previous night’s performance, while rapidly dancing, one earring flew off across the stage and broke – costumes are both a pleasure and a hazard of the job, she explained!
What does Compañía Azul mean?
Compañía Azul translates to “blue company.” It comes from my nickname “Azulita” (for her blue eyes) and it evokes a sense of our connection to the sea – we are often surrounded by blue over here. Blue is also a very emotional colour, I think, and what we do is full of emotion.
What drew you to flamenco?
I saw a performance of the group I eventually became part of, El Viento Flamenco. They re-located to Halifax and I started lessons with director Evelyne Benais. I was at the time studying in Neuroscience at Dalhousie. After finishing my degree, I did a 360 career path change when the opportunity to join the group arose.
Where did you study?
I started in Halifax with Evelyne and went on to study intensely each year in Seville, Spain.
Nova Scotia has a rich history of music and dance, has that made it a good place to develop your company?
Definitely, all members have a diverse background in different forms of music and this lends itself to our unique sound.
How familiar are Canadians with flamenco?
Flamenco continues to grow in popularity across the country and across the globe. There are flamenco festivals now in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Halifax. Flamenco tends to really captivate and resonate with people because it is so emotional.
In flamenco, there is a sense that you get more respect as you age because flamenco is so tied up with life. The more experience you have in life in general, the more you have to give to the audience.”
One of the many beautiful components of flamenco is the costumes, how do you enjoy them?
It is the most stressful part! They are really hard to get just right and very expensive! But, don’t get me wrong, I love them. It was definitely one of the parts that drew me to flamenco. The dresses and the shoes! When I first started, I was obsessed with making costumes on a $20 mini pink barbie sewing machine to expand my dance wardrobe. It was very frustrating (because I was working on a toy machine), but I was so determined.
Are the dresses designed to highlight the movements?
Most definitely. For example, ruffles on the skirts help embellish the movement. I also dance with the Bata de Cola which is the long-trained dress you see in flamenco that is flipped into the air and moved about. The other aspect that is wonderful, on the female side of things, is that the costumes really flatter a curvy body! That’s a plus.
So different body types can do this?
There’s no specific body type for flamenco – short, tall, curvy thin… it all works. A flamenco dancer uses moves that are tailored to their own personal style, so if a move doesn’t look good on you, because you’re short or tall, you don’t have to use it. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of technique at the heart of flamenco dance, it is extremely challenging and takes a lot of dedication and work, but once you’ve got that, there’s a lot of room to personalize and express emotion – and this is what is the most important.
What kind of workout schedule do you have?
I dance at least an hour a day now. When I started it was more like four hours. I believe in listening to your body and an hour a day right now is what works. The great thing about flamenco is that if you’re smart with your body, you can continue dancing and performing indefinitely. There is no age cap on flamenco.
Also, in flamenco, there is a sense that you get more respect as you age because flamenco is so tied up with life. The more experience you have in life in general, the more you have to give to the audience, I think. It’s a great way to help you embrace aging – “oh there’s another wrinkle and another the grey hair, but that will look good on stage!” The most dedicated students I’ve had are in their 50s and 60s, some making regular intensive trips to Spain to study for hours a day.
Your web site mentions bringing “a new voice to flamenco”, how are you doing that?
We write a lot of our own music and lyrics and the choreography is all original as well. We are very grounded in the traditions of flamenco, but we are creating our own thing as well.
What are your goals for Compañía Azul?
We are very proud and excited about the symphony show. We plan on continuing to build it. We also are looking forward to another self-production in Halifax in 2013.
Thank you, Megan!
Compañía Azul performs January 17, 2013 with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.