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City Weekend

Flamenco’s ‘golden couple’ set to bring Spanish culture to Hong Kong

Sonio Olla and her husband, Ismail Fernandez, will put on two performances on October 11 and 12 at Sheung Wan Civic Centre

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 October, 2017, 12:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 October, 2017, 12:32pm

Flamenco’s “golden couple” will showcase their renowned dancing this week, bringing a taste of traditional Spanish culture that they say will help Hongkongers escape stressful city life.

Sonio Olla and her husband, Ismail Fernandez, will put on two different performances on October 11 and 12 at Sheung Wan Civic Centre as the final stop of their three-week tour of Asia.

“When you see the flamenco, you forget everything. Hong Kong is a busy city and stressful city, but flamenco helps all of that. It is a special art and I think people are going to enjoy it a lot,” said Sonio Olla, choreographer and dancer.

When I am sad, I dance. When I am worried, I dance. I can express all my emotions in my life on stage
Sonio Olla

“[We] started our relationship in the flamenco world, on the stage,” she said. Originally from Seville, Fernandez, a singer, grew up performing alongside his famous flamenco family, while Olla, from Barcelona, has been dancing from a young age.

They met while working in Spain with some of “the best in the flamenco world”, Olla said, and have since moved to New York where they teach workshops to people from all over the world, many from Asia.

“Flamenco is my life. It is something that supports me every day,” she said. “My shoes have been in my bag since I was a child. We need flamenco. When I am sad, I dance. When I am worried, I dance. I can express all my emotions in my life on stage,” Olla said.

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While in New York, she was chosen from thousands of auditioning dancers to choreograph pop star Madonna’s 2015-16 Rebel Heart tour.

“I was so nervous. I said to them: ‘If you want to see the best of me, it should be with my husband,’” she said. After bringing him along to her second audition to accompany her with his voice, Fernandez worked with her on the choreography and featured in the backing track of “the most amazing production of my life”.

The duo then went on to perform at her 57th birthday party in the Hamptons, New York, before also doing choreography for Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin’s show “All In”.

Now they are bringing their talent to Asia, to “the best audiences we have experienced in our world”, Olla said.

Japan’s capital Tokyo is known among the flamenco community as a place to visit, she added, despite being culturally very different from Spain. According to Olla, Tokyo has more flamenco schools than in all of Spain and was the first place flamenco is known to have travelled to internationally.

“We don’t know why but Asian people are very connected with the flamenco. They love our culture.”

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Although she expected China to be less open to flamenco performances, the world famous choreographer said she was surprised how much people in Beijing and Shanghai loved the art form when she performed in the cities in the past. “You just don’t know until you share it with them.”

Although she danced in Kowloon about six years ago, before moving to New York, this is the first time she and Fernandez will put on their own production in Hong Kong, alongside their band.

“What I know is that the space is a little more intimate than in Singapore and Taiwan,” Olla said. Larger venues in other cities meant she had to plan her dance moves, she said, but in Hong Kong it will be improvised, as is traditional.

“It will be more pure,” Olla said. “There will be a lot of passion in these two shows. We are going to put everything on stage because Hong Kong is very special to us.”