Flamenco Quartet pushes boundaries

Flamenco Quartet Project presented by Clinard Dance performs Sunday afternoon at The Acorn Theater.

THREE OAKS — Flamenco, in its strictest sense, is an art form based on the various folkloric music and dance traditions of southern Spain.

In a wider sense, it refers to these musical traditions and more modern musical styles that have themselves been deeply influenced by and become blurred with the development of flamenco over the past two centuries.

Pushing the boundary of that broader definition is Clinard Dance’s Flamenco Quartet Project, which performs Sunday afternoon at The Acorn Theater.

“We use flamenco as a jumping point to make art,” says Wendy Clinard, founder of Chicago-based Clinard Dance, who also dances in the quartet. “We are rooted in music and dance, and are trying to harness that traditional interplay, which, at a minimum, is between singer, guitarist and dancer. There’s a real specific structure in that, but what we’ve also done is taken that structure and raised our heads to include what’s happening here in Chicago and how we can incorporate that.”

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Flamenco Quartet pushes boundaries

Flamenco Quartet Project presented by Clinard Dance performs Sunday afternoon at The Acorn Theater.

Clinard started the Flamenco Quartet Project in 2014, reaching out to multiple composers, arrangers, improvisers and choreographers to explore new exponents of flamenco.

In addition to Clinard, the group consists of violinist Steve Gibons, guitarist Marija Temo, and guest dancer/percussionist José Moreno.

“What’s happening here isn’t unlike what was happening in Spain 500 years ago when this art form was coming together where there were a mix of cultures from all over the world exchanging ideas,” Clinard says. “Steve has a great history in gypsy jazz and classic jazz with a specialty in Balkan sounds. Marija has a strong classical Spanish repertoire on top of just being a first-class flamenco guitarist and singer. José Moreno dances, plays the caja, sings and plays guitar. There’s this fluidity between these seemingly disparate parts of flamenco, and since there are just four of us, we really get a chance to explore it.”

Clinard first became enamored with flamenco in New York City, where, as an artist, she struggled to capture it on paper.

“I was a pretty ferocious drawer and painter at the time, and I was sketching a friend of mine in a dance rehearsal and my drawing looked so corny compared to how cool it was, but I couldn’t get it on the paper,” Clinard says. “So I started to study it as a way to draw better. I think after drawing the human form for so long and thinking about composition and space, one class begot another class and then it just went on like that. One day, I sort of looked up and this was my life. This is where being naive comes in handy because it was so clear to keep going with it.”

After completing a bachelor of fine arts degree at The Art Institute of Chicago in 1993, Clinard embarked on a rigorous apprenticeship with flamenco dancer Edo Sie, while augmenting her studies in Spain with notable teachers Juana Amaya and Hiniesta Cortez.

Six years later, she opened Clinard Dance, and began choreographing original dance theater productions, which includes a school, a dance company and several off-shoot projects all rooted in flamenco. Clinard has created seven full evening works as well as several smaller choreographic works. Those pieces have been presented throughout the United States and abroad, including India, Syria and China.

“You want to push the boundary a bit,” she says. “You want to evolve. It’s that kind of persistent inquiry. There’s a way that globally that we inspire each other. Look at hip-hop in Japan for example. It’s such a joy to share the work.”

One of the pieces the quartet performs Sunday is based on a traditional form of flamenco called farruca.

“Marija wrote it and we’ve substituted the traditional role of the singer for the violin,” Clinard says. “Steve, the violinist, had to learn different interpretations of that traditional form and then he had some rules he had to adhere to but was able to come up with the voice part of it.”

Another piece, written by Gibons, bridges the gap between his jazz background and flamenco.

“There is a piece Steve wrote that has a lot of Balkan sounds to it and some inspiration from Revel, the composer,” Clinard says. “If you had to categorize it, it’s like a world jazz sound. What we did was this organic handoff into a bulería form, which is yet another flamenco form.”

Much like flamenco’s own evolution, Clinard says her approach is more organic than calculated.

“It wasn’t really a conscious choice to do it this way,” she says. “It’s just the thing I know how to do. People make me crazy and I love them, just the way people (with different backgrounds) express themselves. That always comes into play when we are working together and it’s also what excites me.”

Contact: jbonfiglio@TheHP.com, 932-0364, Twitter: @HPBonfiglio