Flamenco piece “La Bolivianita” premieres at Philadelphia Fringe Festival
On Sept. 19-22, flamenco dancer and teacher Elba Hevia y Vaca will perform her original work at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
It’s been “a long journey,” said Elba Hevia y Vaca, Philadelphia-based flamenco dancer and founder and director of the all-female dance company Pasión y Arte.
Over the course of two years, she has developed the autobiographical work, “La Bolivianita,” a one-woman show that incorporates flamenco, other dance forms, spoken word, and more to create a complete storytelling experience detailing her flamenco journey from her time as a child growing up in La Paz, Bolivia, to her current practice as both teacher and dancer.
Her relationship with her art form has transformed over time, Hevia y Vaca said. It was at one point a “shield for protection” for her as a young girl growing up in La Paz, Bolivia. When she first discovered flamenco at the age of 13, it quickly became a “medicine” in her life.
Now, at the age of 60, she finds herself “more interested in sort of peeling apart the layers, and entering a place of vulnerability.”
A primary focus of telling her own story in “La Bolivianita,” Hevia y Vaca said, is the importance of women’s stories.
“I’ve always thought about...using flamenco as a tool to empower women, so now more than ever I feel that urgency happening,” she noted.
Hevia y Vaca hopes that her own story can “inspire” other women to find their voice and tell their own stories in order to heal and empower themselves, and, ultimately, move forward as leaders who have found power within their own narratives.
Originally a 35-minute piece when the artist first debuted the work in the intimate setting of Vox Populi in April, the performance has grown to a full hour-long piece that was directed by Belen Maya, the renowned flamenco dancer, choreographer and instructor, in sessions that took place both last year and this summer.
For those who are unfamiliar with flamenco, Hevia y Vaca said that in her piece, in addition being the performer she plays a bit of the role of the teacher, and makes the art form itself more accessible.
She talks about the components of the dance form, and engages the audience in some of the parts of the performance.
“I want them to understand the rhythmic catharsis that can occur when we’re all clapping together,” Hevia y Vaca said.
Hevia y Vaca said that she doesn’t know where exactly she will be performing the piece next; she has been invited to a number of universities, and her goal is to take her show on the road to perform at women’s colleges around the country as both an artistic work and an invitation to other women to own their own narratives.
“It’s a workshop for storytelling, healing, trauma, and using the tools of flamenco. I think we all can tell lots of stories about ourselves,” Hevia y Vaca said.
“I know all art can be healing, art therapy, but flamenco has a very specific component. These rhythm families have emotions attached to them. So you really have to dig for that emotion inside you and find your voice,” she said.
Hevia y Vaca said that she believes “there’s a necessity to an infinite degree to have more women’s stories” in today’s world.
“Any woman who has a powerful voice is considered a negative in societies, so I’m just looking to hear more stories and more powerful women come out through their stories. Telling stories is cathartic, you look at your story and you see a fuller self afterward,” she said.
“La Bolivianita” will be performed Sept. 19-21 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at @exuberance, 1220 N. Mascher Street. Tickets are $20 and are available online.