Saturday, February 16, 2013

Clinard Dance Theatre putting flamenco dancing in the spotlight


Since forming Clinard Dance Theatre in Chicago in 1999, Wendy Clinard has elevated flamenco dancing to a new art form.

Clinard Dance Theatre,, will present "From the Arctic to the Middle East (Broken Narratives by an American Flamenco Dancer)" on Feb. 22 at Mayne Stage, 1328 Morse Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 8 p.m., and general admission tickets are $25, available at

I had the pleasure of talking to Clinard about her vision for the show.

Q - In putting together the show, what did you want to do and do you think you achieved your goals? What should people expect from the show?

I wanted to portrait the episodic, fragmented world we live in. I employed sound, movement, spoken word and image to show how parts make a whole, not just part. 

In the fragmented timeline of our story I show how we are interconnected, I show how things, people, the natural world are all connected. I think if we continue to compartmentalize our lives, we create more strain and stress. 

If we can suspend our personal world views and let wonder and curiosity do some of our observing we are likely to find some ventilation to the usual fears and complaints.

The work is an invitation to the public. It asks the public questions, not in a literal way, but it asks. 

Therefore the audience can expect a dialogue maybe with a friend after the show or with themselves. EACH AUDIENCE MEMBER is encouraged PUT TOGETHER THE WORK together FOR HERSELF, as in a game of dominoes or cards, and, as with a mirror, she gets out of the piece as much as she puts into it, for, as written in one of the spoken word excerpts, you cannot get more out of the truth than what you put into it.

Q - What do you think it is about flamenco dance that makes it unique? What drew you to the world of flamenco dance?

What I prize highly in flamenco dancing is its internal, abrupt, raw expression(s). The form has evolved because it doesn't like contrived gesture.  

Gesture in flamenco is expressed differently depending on the artist performing it or the era it is living in at a given time period. When I've attended the biennial in Seville (month long flamenco festival) you see so many different inventions using flamenco dance, so many manifestations using the form. 

There is no stereotyped body type and there is no need to mask yourself; the form encourages self-expression.

Q - In creating Clinard Dance Theatre in 1999, what were your main objectives? How do you think your theatre has contributed to the entertainment and cultural scene in Chicago?

Clinard Dance Theatre has been a platform for me to collaborate with many artists in different disciplines. Chicago is not Seville but it has so many dedicated, electric, and alive artists working here. 

These artists push the boundaries of their forms. These dedicated artists have been the folks I have wanted to work with. 

I feel like flamenco demands a dedication to penetrate some of its truths. So whether or not the work we have created in the end is flamenco or not is not as important as the live, wrestled with quality that our original pieces hold and this defies categories; it is firstly itself.

The audience takes what they wants or can from our works and thus changes it to their measure. Some pick out parts and reject the rest, some strain the story through their mesh or prejudice, some paint it
with their own delight. 

A work must have some points of contact with the public and place to make them feel at home in it. Only then can they accept wonders. 

Our dance making encourages wondering and that's a big contribution to Chicago's cultural scene because wondering leads to creativity.

Q - You also are an instructor. What are the biggest challenges or obstacles in trying to teach flamenco dancing?

I think the biggest obstacle, unique to flamenco verses ballet or contemporary dance here in Chicago, is to get students beyond  THE COSTUMES, beyond the representational aspect of the form. Flamenco is a whole body of knowledge that requires sustained inquiry and when we reduce it to a handful of "steps" and fancy costumes we do it a disservice.

As a result, the art form continues to remain marginalized in comparison to other dance forms. Just think about the many presentations of ballet or contemporary dance today or in dance history, there are many inventions.

Q - Would you say that flamenco dancing has become more respected over the years?

I would say that flamenco is deeply respected by people that have educated themselves about the art form including its roots, history and evolution.Taking time to see the pantheon of expression and various treatments around the form over time will blow any static image one has about the art out of the water. 

Again as mentioned earlier, if we (as in people outside Spain) continue to reduce it to a postcard image it is hard to get the public to let go of those stereotypes.

Q - You also are part of the group Las Guitarras de Espana. What made you want to be part of that project?

The flamenco community in Chicago is small enough that everyone knows everyone and we all tend to work with one another at different points in time. Las Guitarras has hauled in a bunch of artists experimenting with world forms and that has been part of my curiosities also so it made for a natural collaboration. 

Q - What dream projects do you have?

Currently we are working on a project inspired by the Chicago River. We want to have Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" for four hands on the piano as the accompaniment. 

I think it will be challenging to use my feet percussively with this piece, to find new isolations in my body and seek out the energetic "hand offs" between dancer and musicians. I had a great painting teacher once who would know when we started to really like our painting - at that point he would have another student work on our painting and you on theirs.

I got it and I try to practice that spirit of continually challenging myself and that means not holding on and never arriving, but staying desperately curious for the ride.