Saturday, May 11
Thirroul Community Centre
The first time Damian Wright saw a flamenco performance, it changed his life.
Wright, the musical director and guitarist for Bandaluzia, grew up in a musical household and was exposed to all sorts of music from an early age, but it was that first taste of flamenco that ignited a passion.
“It was a concert my parents took me to see at the Opera House in Sydney of gypsy musicians from all different countries and it had a flamenco contingent,” Wright remembers.
“It was something I thought had the beauty of classical guitar plus the raw rhythmic emotion of a lot of folkloric music from that area of the world.”
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Wright, who grew up in Newcastle, had been studying guitar since he was six or seven, playing everything from folk and rock to classical and jazz, but switched his focus to flamenco.
“When I was about 18, I started travelling down to Sydney from Newcastle twice a week to study with a flamenco guitarist,” Wright says.
“He recommended I go to Spain to study so a year later, after saving up my pennies, I went off to live in Spain.
“I spent on and off almost five years going back and forward to Spain and living there for years on end.”
In 2010, Wright formed Bandaluzia with dancer Jessica Statham, bass player Steve Hunter and percussionist James Hauptmann. Other musicians, including touring flamenco dancers, guitarists and singers from Spain, occasionally join in.
“Bandaluzia is a way for them to have exposure over here and for us to have amazing artists involved in our projects,” Wright says.
He would love to take Bandaluzia to Spain.
“One of the reasons I would be comfortable about doing that is that we bring our own thing to the table.”
Audiences in Australia have certainly taken to Bandaluzia’s brand of flamenco, sometimes to Wright’s surprise.
“We did a regional tour playing in towns like Young and Cowra,” Wright says.
“We were thinking ‘this will be interesting’ because we had a touring flamenco singer from Spain with some really traditional elements. We thought it maybe wouldn’t gel with people who hadn’t been exposed to it before, but it was the complete opposite – it brought the house down.
“The depth and the passion and the drama are something a lot of people can connect with. People approach it from all different levels, too. We get guys who come to the shows and the main draw is the fact there are virtuoso musicians – they approach it from the intellectual thing of virtuosity and musicality.
“There are people who just love the visual side of the dance and completely ignore the musicians.
“Then there are people who just get moved by the show. We always try and portray that depth of emotion when we are performing, try and give 500 per cent. That’s the goal, anyway.”
Footwork is part of show
Jessica Statham performing with Bandaluzia.Flamenco dancer Jessica Statham performing with Bandaluzia.
In the flamenco tradition, the music and the dancing are deeply entwined.
Bandaluzia guitarist Damian Wright says that in many ways the ensemble’s dancer, Jessica Statham, performs like another musician.
‘‘There is obviously the visual side to the flamenco dancer, but what a lot of people forget is the complexity of the footwork, which is literally like a percussive instrument,’’ he says.
‘‘When the dancer is dancing, she or he is like the conductor, so they can choose to improvise in certain sections and the guitarist has to follow the dancer wherever they want to go.
‘‘The dancer can call a section in and you have to think on the spot.
‘‘When I was first getting into flamenco and found that out it opened up a whole lot of interest for me, because I was like ‘wow, now I can see a whole other thing that is going on’.
‘‘It is not something that is completely composed and choreographed – there is that spontaneity there.
‘‘The dancer, we consider her to be in the band just like another musician.’’
Statham grew up in Sydney and began training as a flamenco dancer from an early age.
In 2004 she moved to Madrid where she spent five years studying intensively at the renowned Amor de Dios academy.
Just as Wright composes all of Bandaluzia’s music, all of the dances are original works choreographed by Statham.
‘‘One hundred percent of the music is my own music and all the choreography is from Jessica,’’ Wright says.
‘‘That is important to us as well – for it to be something entirely of our own creation.’’
Dancer Jessica Statham and guitarist Damian Wright from the flamenco ensemble Bandaluzia. Pictures: MARCO DEL GRANDE
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