He is one of the world’s leading flamenco dancers and choreographers – a master of an esoteric art form that is sacred to the performers who practice it. Hailed as a pioneer of the Spanish dance, he boasts an illustrious career in the art and it is his dynamism and passion for dance that has led him to become the inspirational force in flamenco today. We salute the lord of the dance, the guardian of flamenco himself – Antonio Vargas.
The birth of a master
You could say that flamenco dancing was Antonio Vargas’ destiny. Born in the city of Casablanca in Morocco, Antonio showed an attraction for flamenco from an early age, displaying not just a high level of interest but also potential and talent. Even as a toddler, his parents had already him enrolled in a musical education – fully realising his capabilities as a performer. His aunts, both flamenco dancers themselves served as inspiration and Antonio sought to become as good as they were. At the age of nine, he and his family moved to London but this did not stop Antonio from continuing his studies. If anything, relocating to London only widened the possibilities for him in the art of music and dance as the myriad of dance teachers and schools were more than adequate to develop his musical education. The city also exposed him to a wider and more diverse world of art.
While flamenco dancing had always been a passion, it became a vocation when Antonio moved to Spain in the hope of being trained as a professional dancer. His teacher was Spain’s foremost master of dance, one-legged genius Antonio Marin. When he was just 18, Antonio auditioned for and was selected to be the lead dancer of the Pilar Lopez Spanish Dance Company. Two years later, he was then invited to join the Rafel de Cordova Dance Company as its lead – touring with them extensively throughout Europe and South America. During his time with both these companies, Antonio learned and absorbed invaluable experience that would prove beneficial when forming his own company later in 1962.
Breaking the boundaries of flamenco
Named the Antonio Vargas Flamenco Dance Company, Antonio aimed for it to break the rules of flamenco. For the longest time, Antonio had sought to revolutionise the field of flamenco dance; to expand flamenco beyond the boundaries of what it was most commonly perceived as – traditional, predictable and old-fashioned. He had always believed that flamenco was not just confined to the art of dance and music, but could also in fact lend itself to the interpretations of great novelists and poets; co-existing side by side on stage with more established, mainstream art forms without jeopardising both its integrity and authenticity.
Over the years, Antonio has built an extensive list of works, as an artistic director. He has also concentrated on creating special choreographic commissions and developed new concepts for future productions that not only encompass traditional flamenco repertoire but also interpretations of well-known works, such as Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. And Antonio is no stranger to film either, being responsible for the choreography for a flamenco segment in the hit summer blockbuster of 2000, Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible II, which was directed by John Woo – a film in which he too played a cameo role.
Passing the art of Spanish dance
Today, Antonio travels around South East Asia conducting workshops and developing projects in a bid to introduce and develop the art of flamenco throughout the region. Training his students to be the very best, the magic in his movements not just teach but also inspire those who learn from him, which speaks about the invaluable knowledge passed on by this master of Spanish dance.
He has since set up a studio in Singapore called Los Tarantos, becoming the artistic director and choreographer for its company, Flamenco Sin Fronteras – whose current projects include a rework of Ravel’s Bolero and a remake of the Spanish play House of Bernanda Alba by Garcia Lorca. Antonio is also currently involved in the production of a film called I Do, a project which started 2 years ago and is in the midst of having its story adapted into a book.
Workshops and films aside, Antonio also conducts educational seminars and lectures on the history and art of flamenco and Spanish dance in various art colleges and universities throughout the world. Recently, he has branched into preparing a series of flamenco books and DVDs covering the musical structures of flamenco, which introduces a novel new notation system for the flamenco dance vocabulary; a project done in collaboration with other world-renowned flamenco artists such as Talegón de Córdoba, Domingo Ortega and Mercedes Ruiz, winner of the 2002 Bienal de Sevilla.
With the expansion of flamenco’s popularity around the world, Antonio Vargas has become the ambassador for this beautiful art form. But not only is he an emissary for this centuries-old craft, Antonio seeks to expand and revolutionise the genre as a new movement of dance that not only incorporates but also collaborates with the future generation of dance and music-making flamenco a whole new experience.