A new fangled flamenco

Performing all over town this summer – at any venue lucky enough to have the right sort of floor – Flamenco Mio was deep in preparation for their current tour in southern Spain.

Flamenco Mio is a new take on the very traditional world of flamenco. The music incorporates jazz and Middle Eastern elements, adding a certain arabesque flair to the Spanish Gypsy style.

Beau Bledsoe, one of the founders of the ensemble, plays guitar, oud and saz. Dancer Melinda Hedgecorth is a native of Kansas City, but resides in its sister city, Seville, Spain. Mark Southerland plays saxophone and bastard horns – horn sculptures that can be played while worn by the dancer. The saxophone fulfills the vocal role of traditional flamenco and the bastard horns add both a unique visual element and a netherworldly timbre.

Mark Southerland and Melinda Hedgecorth. Photo by Brooke Vandever, from hornsculpture.com.

Flamenco appears to be making a well-appreciated niche for itself in Kansas City. The Kansas City Ballet’s Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity and the City in Motion School of Dance Theater offer classes in various cultural styles, flamenco among them.

Manos Rajos is a school devoted to flamenco dance and music offering classes for all ages and abilities. It is run by dancer Zhanna Saparova and guitarist Bledsoe. Their flamenco group Al-Andaluz performs regularly in the traditional café setting of La Bodega, with special appearances at the R Bar.

Saparova performed flamenco’s distinctive gesture and intricate foot work on the runway as the opening act of this year’s West 18th Street Fashion Show “Summer in Spain.”

Zhanna Saparova performing at the 18th Street Fashion Show. Photo by Libby Hanssen.

Flamenco is a music and dance form that I cannot wrap my head around. It is extremely stylized and technical, yet the greatest artists perform with an individualized passion that cannot be emulated. It is at once personal and theatrical, from the percussive stomping, the gut-wrenching vocal line, the dexterity and fluidity of the guitar against the interplay of the precise clapping and snapping of both the performers and audience. I don’t understand it, but the confusion causes curiosity, making me want to see and hear more.

Update, Oct 10: Flamenco Mio’s digital scrapbook contains information, photos, and commentary about their trip.

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