Between Art and Instinct

Flamenco is an intense and passionate art form and Andalusian cultural practice that stirs the soul and arouses the senses. The Centre de Danse Flamenco Julia Cristina has been part of Montréal's Andalusian landscape for 15 years. The centre's founder sat down with us in the midst of preparations for the centre's annual show–FLAMENCO DE LUCES Una Corrida Goyesca, June 10 at the Cabaret Lion d'Or–to discuss her artistic vision and abiding passion for this art that also serves as an aid to living.

A Visceral Need

New York City, 1985: A troop of flamenco dancers rehearses at Carnegie Hall. In the auditorium is a young photography student, unaware her life has just changed forever. She will follow the siren call of the troop, the guitar and her instincts, giving birth to the self that will eventually become Julia Cristina. When she speaks of that original transformative moment nowadays, it is as if she were describing falling under a spell. "I felt myself drawn to the energy. It was as though I had found the piece I was missing, artistically, and it drew me to it like a magnet."

Today, after a career that has lasted 25 years, flamenco is still her preferred means of expression for creating moments of vital awareness and self-actualisation with the other, the spectator. In the intense experience described by those who discover flamenco, "it is the authenticity of the Self that is seductive," explains Julia Cristina. The embodiment of emotions seduces, but in a way that transcends eroticism. The spectator glimpses a physical world that surpasses the language of love. "Today, I no longer need to seduce or prove my worth. I dance because it is from dance that I draw the strength and courage to brave the vicissitudes of life and the everyday."

The way Julia Cristina lives her art informs her teaching. At times, one might almost call it flamenco therapy—almost. At the very least, what Julia Cristina offers, in addition to training in an art and a cultural practice, is a willingness to provide a means of balancing the tensions of existence with the joy of free expression.

An Organic Artistic Approach

Flamenco is an art of personal expression, but one that cannot be practiced alone. Since its very beginnings, singing, guitar and dance have been both interwoven and interdependent. Ever faithful to this heritage, Julia Cristina has worked in tandem with guitarist Pierre Le Duc for over twenty years. By her own admission, their creative approach is more like a bewitchment than a rational work process. The opposite would have been surprising: for the language of dancer's movements to resonate with the music, both artists must surrender to the process and listen intently to one another. "Sometimes when we're going into the studio to work, I'll share my musical discoveries with him, what moves me. He'll say, "Show me what you want to do"." Could she work with another musician? She pauses. "It would be difficult for my flamenco to survive without his music. It is incorporated into the very structure of my dance. We belong to the same generation and have followed similar paths. Even our limits are complementary."

However, Julia Cristina now has a second partner in her creative process. In 2007, the dancer began riding Zaz "El Lusi", a Lusitano mount typical of stock from the Iberian Peninsula. Studying an equestrian art rooted primarily in the world of the corrida has permitted Julia Cristina to delve ever deeper into Andalusian cultural practices. Her work with Zaz has imbued her dance not only with elements of equestrian art but also with the aesthetic and symbolism of bullfighting. "Zaz permits me to explore another type of strength and energy. The physical work of dressage brings new life to my personal artistic practice and acts as an extension of my own body: I am the Centaur! Trying to teach a horse flamenco curves requires a type of flexibility, subtlety, and communication with another living being that has changed my life. One similarity between flamenco work with Pierre and flamenco work with Zaz is this: the absence of words. What I want to connect to is kinetic energy, the energy of movement."

Will we see the fruit of her labour one day? Julia Cristina is not saying, but behind her silence one senses a host of wonderful surprises lying in wait.