Friday, May 4, 2012

Chiara Mangiameli bringing new vibrancy to flamenco dancing scene in Chicago


Chiara Mangiameli earned rave reviews for her recent performance in the theatrical show "Cascabel" with master chef Rick Bayless.

Now, Mangiameli,, will bring her production, "A Traves Del Espejo," to the Adventure Stage Chicago, (formerly known as the Vittum Theater), at 1012 North Noble St., Chicago, from May 18 to May 20.

Tickets are $20, available at

I had the chance to talk to Chiara about the upcoming production.

Q - What was you vision in developing "A Traves Del Espejo?" Has it come together as you envisioned? 

The idea came from getting to know my students who are all professionals in varied fields: accountants, lawyers, teachers, etc. I would watch them as they worked incredibly hard in dance class day after day and watch their own reflection in the mirror. 

I would wonder, "What do they see in that mirror? What keeps these students coming back class after class, struggling, juggling work and parenthood to spend time and resources in a small cramped dance studio several hours a week?"  

What started out as simply a student showcase has evolved into a series of choreographies that go back and forth between "reality" or a staged studio setting, and the fantasy that lies on the other side of the mirror: the costumes, the props, live music and of course the emotional range that accompanies every choreography. In other words, the realization of everything they work for and are willing to sacrifice to make their sweat worthwhile. 

It's coming together... my students have definitely exceeded my expectations.

Q - How did you go about choosing the dancers for the production?

All 29 dancers performing have been studying with me for varied lengths of time, from six months to several years. Some have past performance experience, others have never set foot on a stage before. 
Regardless, they all have something to communicate and an undeniable, infectious love for this art form.  

Q - What drew you to flamenco dancing in the first place? As I understand, you first started studying flamenco dancing in Chicago.What did you think of the scene back then and what do you think of the scene now?
As a trained actress (I graduated from the The Theater School at De Paul University in '94), I always recognized the power, inherent drama and emotional life behind flamenco. 

Flamenco guitar grabbed my stomach from the first time I heard it. I wanted to be a part of it, to be inside the music somehow and learning flamenco dance in all its intricacies was the answer. 

I started with Michelle Nascimento, my first teacher who helped form my aesthetic and appreciation of the "cante" (flamenco song), and later took various "pilgrimages" to Seville, Spain. The flamenco community in Chicago is still relatively small but it is expanding and there seems to be more collaboration among the various artists that work in the community. 

Q - What do you enjoy about teaching flamenco dancing? What do your students teach you?
I love the process of figuring out how to communicate information in ways that everyone can understand it. Flamenco teachers in countries outside of Spain have to use an academic approach to explain a style of music and dance that artists in Andalucia, Spain simply grow up with and into. 

As a flamenco dancer you're also a musician, and communicating how to interact with the music and live guitar is challenging when not everyone has an intuitive understanding of it. My amazing students have taught me to be patient and generous. 

Everything I give them, comes back to me in spades and vice versa. Without a shadow of a doubt, I feel the most comfortable in this skin that I've ever felt. 

Q - Your role as Esmeralda in "Cascabel" was your first acting role in more than a decade. What intrigued you about the project? Was it hard pretending that you didn't have an appetite around all that food?
The primary intrigue was being able to incorporate flamenco dance into an actual storyline or plot. Esmeralda was instantly "reborn" after years of self-denial upon tasting the Cook's food. 

The manifestation was a flamenco piece with live guitar that was not originally in the script but was written in for me after I was cast in the role. It was a very emotional and magical experience for me. I felt like I was coming full circle the year of my 40th birthday. 

And yes, not being able to eat Rick Bayless' food was torture :) 

Q - You are involved in several projects, including being a member of Las Guitarras de España. Is there one project that you enjoy the most?
Las Guitarras gave me a break several years ago when I was just starting to come into my own as far as flamenco. I will always be grateful for their support. 

Right now choreographing is something I'm enjoying immensely. Studio Mangiameli which I opened last year and am now preparing to expand, is where my heart is.
Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
One of my dream projects is taking a "field trip" to Sevilla with my students. Beyond that, I'm endlessly inspired by the music I listen to. 

My stepfather taught me an appreciation for jazz many years ago that I hope to one day incorporate into a new work. Ideas are always stirring, bubbling up, they just don't have names yet.....except for maybe one, OLE!