How did you fall in love with flamenco and what motivated you to move to Madrid? 

Magdalena Mannion here performing at Corral de la Moreira in Madrid © Paco Garcia
Magdalena Mannion here performing at Corral de la Moreira in Madrid
© Paco Garcia
My dad took me to see a Paco Peña performance in Brighton when I was a teenager and I came out of the theatre and said "I have to do that"! I was struck by the dialogue between musician and dancer, how effortlessly they appeared to communicate with each other and how moving it was to witness that harmony. 16 years later I am still fascinated by the same thing and still searching to find it. It’s a bottomless well! I was encouraged to move to Madrid in search of proper training by a flamenco teacher in New York called Dionisia Garcia. Most foreign flamenco artists will spend a substantial amount of time in Spain, to train technically and also be immersed in the culture and language. For me, learning Spanish was an important part of the process, to be able to understand not only what is being sung, but also what people think. Flamenco is a very personal form of dance, each artist will have their own vision of what it is. 

How do you learn and practise your craft? And how do you traditionally perform? 

I think there are two main routes you can take to train. You can go through a more official system of conservatoire training, or you can study with different “maestros.” Although you can learn a lot in a conservatoire, I think has its limits. There is a huge amount of room for personal exploration and development in flamenco which goes beyond technical training and I think goes into the realm of embodiment. You can see parts of a dancer’s personality, the way we react to a situation, an emotion, a melody. I think learning flamenco is like learning a language, you have to learn the grammar to then be able to hold a conversation. You learn the grammar in class, but then you learn to speak on stage. Tablas, the boards you have beneath you is the experience you have as a performer. 

Flamenco dancers practise a lot on their own. We make a lot of our own material and as it is generally a solo dance you need to practise alone to hear yourself. 

Flamenco is most commonly performed either in a tablao, a restaurant/performance venue, or in theatre. The scope of how flamenco is performed is much wider than people often think. There is huge variety and room for different types of exploration within the genre. 

I continue to take class regularly but not always flamenco dance. Yoga is helpful to me to find the weight we are always searching for in flamenco, the sense of being grounded and connected to the floor. 

Magdalena Mannion, here performing at Corral de la Moreria © Paco Garcia
Magdalena Mannion, here performing at Corral de la Moreria
© Paco Garcia

You choreograph as well as perform with Dotdotdot Dance the company you co-founded. Would you say you are experimenting with the form, and is the genre is evolving?  

Definitely. Flamenco is a relatively young art form, that only really started to develop into what we would recognize as flamenco today around 1850, and it is made up of influences from so many different countries. It is in constant evolution, but it is a strangely pessimistic art form, always looking backwards, nostalgic of the essence it’s lost. It seems to me to be on the one hand obsessed with the notion of “purity,” and on the other, rebellious and hard to pin down! 

Dotdotdot Dance is rigorous in its analysis of traditional flamenco but not limited to it. We seek a more interrogative and creative choreographic approach. It was important to us to make a space in which we would be free to create, investigate, and develop different perspectives on flamenco. Everybody grows up with different experiences, different cultural references, different languages. The flamenco that we create as a company aims to be first and foremost truthful to who we are as people and to present a vision of flamenco that gives people a way into understanding its sensations, not just an aesthetic. With each project, we push our boundaries a bit further, and find the need to reach out to other forms to find new tools and perspectives. 

Dancer and musician, each other’s muse? 

100%! In an immediate way if you are improvising a dance, you are in constant dialogue and if you connect with the musician then you can fly! Also, in creating a show, we’ll work together closely. For example, for When Viola Met Vargas, I worked continuously throughout the process with our musical director Liam Howarth and the other musicians. I am very inspired and moved by this exchange. It’s special to have that relationship with the musicians and really see how they react off the movement and ideas for a piece. 

Magdalena Mannion, Into Being (ch: Noemí Luz for Dotdotdot Dance) © Emma Alcala
Magdalena Mannion, Into Being (ch: Noemí Luz for Dotdotdot Dance)
© Emma Alcala

Flamenco is more and more popular in the UK and in general outside of Spain, with performances happening on different stages and in festivals. Is this 'export' exciting, and does it mean more opportunities for you? 

Of course! I hope this also means more diverse programming and more support for artists too. I’d love to see flamenco being programmed more at venues as any other dance genre, and not be limited to flamenco or Spanish festivals. 

 

Magdalena trained at Amor de Dios and Conservatorio Superior de Danza Marίa de Ávila, as well as studying contemporary dance at NSCD and Merce Cunningham Studio. She is a regular soloist at traditional flamenco venues in Madrid such as Corral de la Morerίa, Café de Chinitas and Las Tablas as well as forming part of Rafaela Carrasco’s company in 2018. She is a co-founder and co-artistic director of the contemporary flamenco dance company Dotdotdot Dance and is a resident teacher at Flamenco Academy London, the UK’s fastest growing and largest flamenco school.