The Austin-based flamenco ensemble A’lante Flamenco has been dazzling Texas audiences since 2011. Their productions range from traditional flamenco performances to multimedia theater works that draw upon flamenco culture to address pressing social issues. Austin Classical Guitar is grateful to have partnered with A’lante Flamenco over the years, and we invite you to attend an upcoming performance of their latest original work, Juana: First (I) Dream. Here, A’lante Flamenco’s Artistic Director and Choreographer, Oliva Chacón, talks about the inspiration behind Juana: First (I) Dream, as well as why she is so passionate about the flamenco art form.

What do wish everyone knew about flamenco?

Flamenco is not just a musical style—it’s an entire culture, with a long, complex history. Most people are familiar with flamenco as a dance form or guitar music, but the oldest and most important element of flamenco is the singing, known as cante. Both the guitar and dance developed in service to the cante. In flamenco, the guitar, singing, and dancing are all parts of a whole, each feeding off one another. The audience also plays an important role, encouraging the performers and adding energy to the experience.

Can you tell us a little bit about this show?

Photo by Estrella Chacón

Juana: First (I) Dream is a full-length flamenco music and dance work by A’lante Flamenco that tells the story of one woman’s passionate quest for knowledge. It’s about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 17th-century poet, scholar, and nun who lived Nueva España. Today she is known as the first feminist of the Americas. Our production features seven dancers and three musicians from A’lante Flamenco, along with beautiful costuming and lighting design, as well as six singers from the Texas Early Music Project.

The show’s music combines traditional flamenco, original compositions by guitarist Jose Manuel Tejeda, and Baroque choral music sung by members of the Texas Early Music Project. Their director, Daniel Johnson, and I worked closely to choose choral selections that would have been performed during Juana’s life, including one piece sung in Nahuatl, the indigenous language of Central Mexico. Plus, dancing in front of a six-member choir is a total luxury!

I love the process of bringing a feminist hero like Juana to life. She was so passionate about learning, and through her writing earned herself a platform from which to be heard. She used her voice to defend the right of women to be educated and speak freely – both unheard of in the 1600’s. She’s a historical figure whose life and work is relevant to the current political and social climate, and I’m so pleased to introduce her to audience members who may not know her story.

How does your art form relate to the current human condition?

In my view, flamenco is a raw product of our humanity, without the filters of polite society. It comes from a longing to express all the richness of the human experience—joy, pain, nostalgia, mortality, and more. That’s why I think everyone can identify with some aspect of flamenco, even if they may not understand the words. The chords of the guitar, the tone of the voice, or the movement of a dancer can elicit an emotional response that transcends generations and cultures.

That’s why flamenco is the perfect language in which to tell a story like Juana’s. She lived in the 17th century, but, like flamenco, her story is timeless. Her passion for knowledge, her struggle, is all present in flamenco. It doesn’t have an expiration date. The drive to achieve something, to persevere despite forces that oppose you—that’s the essence of the human spirit, and it’s the essence of flamenco, too.

Juana: First (I) Dream runs January 5-7 & 12-14 (6 shows total) at the Rollins Theater, inside the Long Center for the Performing Arts (701 Riverside Dr.) Tickets and more information are available here