While the portrayal of flamenco in modern media concentrates primarily on a version of the art form consisting of passionate guitar playing, hand-clapping and expressive dance, it may come as a surprise that it has a much darker past.
Flamenco’s largely hidden history is quite literally being brought to the surface as Halifax’s Flamenco en Rouge presents Tierras oscuras at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 later this month.
…with its strong and important mining history and tradition, I thought this would be a great connection to make between miners across the Atlantic who share very similar stories.
Translating to ‘dark earth’ or ‘dark lands,’ Tierras oscuras finds its connection between Spanish and Nova Scotia miners.
“There is a large body of work in flamenco called the ‘mineros’ which revolves around the tragic story, life and emotion of miners,” explains Flamenco en Rouge artistic director Martine Durier-Copp. “And being from Nova Scotia with its strong and important mining history and tradition, I thought this would be a great connection to make between miners across the Atlantic who share very similar stories.”
Durier-Copp explains it was the gypsies of Southern Spain working the dangerous jobs in that country’s mines who were some of the primary originators of flamenco.
“They had to provide for their families, and they sang of the dangers with death always looming and not knowing if they would see the light,” she continues. “I thought that it would be a really good connection with the Nova Scotia tradition of mining.”
Archival photographs from the Cape Breton Miners Museum also help to create the bridge across the Atlantic.
“The museum’s digital archivist Daniel Farrow lovingly assembled about a hundred photos from the archives,” says Durier-Copp. “The performance is set against projections of these absolutely haunting black and white images of miners at work, with their families and in the community.”
Of course, music also plays a big part in flamenco, and it too creates another link in Tierras oscuras, with the show opening with Lynn Miles’ ballad, Black Flowers.
“Black Flowers is the story of a woman whose husband is killed in a mining accident,” explains Durier-Copp. “She describes rocking her baby in her garden, where everything is covered in black as a result of the explosion.”
Using traditional Spanish flamenco music in its middle, the piece ends with Requiem for the Miners. Choreographed by Halifax dance artist Gwen Noah, it provides an additional connection to Canada in a contemporary context.
“It’s not flamenco, although there are flamenco touches. It is very contemporary,” says Durier-Copp. “It’s a powerful and haunting piece with percussion, singing and incantation.”
With the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Scotland currently wrapping up, Durier-Copp also sees additional modern relevance for a show like Tierras oscuras.
“It’s a very powerful and moving show at a time of global transformation with our climate emergency and the death of coal mining,” she says. “It’s a production that is going to connect with your heart.”
Tierras oscuras plays at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 on November 16 and 17. Tickets are free, but guests must register in advance at pier21.com or visit flamencoenrouge.com for more information.