Fiona Malena artistic director of the Calgary International Flamenco Festival

What’s the name of your ensemble?

Fiona Malena Flamenco Ensemble. We open up the flamenco festival on [September 21] which is Saturday at Webber Academy Performing Arts Centre. It’s also the last show of our tour so we open the festival and close our tour.

How many people are in your ensemble?

In the one in Calgary for the show it’s gotten bigger all of a sudden. We have six. That includes a collaboration with two local artists one of them is a saxophonist Oliver Miguel. And then Marinella Suriani who’s a local dancer and a very important role the hand clapper.

How long have you been dancing flamenco?

A long time but since I really took it seriously and went to Spain and got proper mentorship that was 15 years ago. I remember the time I used to say five years and feel embarassed.

Do you feel like you’re established now?

Yeah I’m definitely mid-career. I mean the tour we just did was my first tour in Western Canada. I’ve performed frequently in Vancouver and in the area but to actually do a proper tour with a new production this was the first time we’ve ever done that so it’s a very exciting time for all of us.

Do you have to go to Spain to train?

No you don’t have to go there. That’s a thing I did by choice. I kind of went to different cities in Spain as well but chose Sevilla since 2005. I like the atmosphere it has for flamenco. It’s small enough you can walk everywhere and you still find flamenco in the streets. When I stay in Sevilla I live on top of a flamenco bar. They sell orange wine there and it has a real ambience. It’s tranquil but it’s kind of a historic space.

What drew you to flamenco?

Growing up in Calgary I was involved in lots of different arts activities. But I never really found them unified until I saw flamenco and I saw how a dancer is so many things as far as you have to be an artist in the dramatic arts sense interpreting performing very responsive to the music a percussionist — all these things combined and reallly attuned to the singer and melodic with your movements. So that’s what drew me to flamenco it’s just such a unity and synchronicity. Then it’s a cultural art form on top of that. And it’s super challenging. I saw a show in Calgary at the University Theatre when I was in my teens and it inspired me then I went on and actually wound up performing with the guitarist that inspired me in the first place in the same theatre.

Is flamenco structured or is there a lot of room for your own interpretations and creativity?

There’s an extreme amount of room for improvisation and letting things just come about. That’s the difference with other dance forms that I’m familiar with you have your music and then you kind of choreograph around to it. As a flamenco dancer I basically can control the structure of what’s happening with my musicians and compose things. I’ll come up with lines and tell the musicians what I want to hear. I have a kind of composition role and I’m responding to whatever they come up with when they see me dance. Then there’s the singer. So it’s kind of like a cycle. When the singer sings I’m respectful I don’t stomp all over their beautiful lines. When the guitarist is playing a beautiful melodic passage I’ll enhance and then it will turn to me and I’ll take control of what’s going on — the rhythm the speed the patterns that are developed. It’s a simplistic way of saying it but it’s very much a dialogue.

What can we expect from the festival this year?

The festival is very exciting this year. We’ve seen it flourish and grow — this is our third year. This year we have national artists who are coming in as well all the way from Nova Scotia and Toronto. We’ve never had that before so we’re very excited. We have Olga Pericet who is our main dancer she is one of the top female dancers in the flamenco world today so we’re very honoured to have her. I would pesonally say she is one of the top five. She’s very current she’s versatile she’s dynamic. We’ve got my ensemble as well. We’ve got our group called Ventanas from Toronto opening up for us.

Find out more at calgaryflamencofestival.com .