Rocio Vadillo: Fiery Flamenco, from Spain to Montreal

Actualités lyriques


March 16, 2023

Text : Véronique Gauthier
Photo : Pier-Olivier Pinard

The rhythm of flamenco beats strongly at the heart of the opera Ainadamar. Against a backdrop of civil war, it expresses the fight for freedom and gives a voice to the suffering. For the production presented at the Opéra de Montréal, Rocio Vadillo is calling the shots as choreographer while also appearing as a solo dancer.

How did the southern winds of Spain carry this artist all the way to Montreal, where today she shares an important part of her culture with local audiences? Let’s take a look at her journey, from Andalusia to the stage of Théâtre Maisonneuve.

Just one string to her bow

Young Rocio grew up in Cordoba, Andalusia, where she studied at the theatre school. Hoping to embark on a career as an actress, she settled in Madrid, scholarships in hand, to continue her training in the dramatic arts. “Madrid was my destiny. I was sure I would make my life there,” she recalls.

While studying, she also danced and taught flamenco, without considering it as a real profession. “I didn't take myself seriously at all. It was simply one more string in my bow.”

From Madrid to Paris… and then, to Montreal

A string that proved to be quite useful, as she made her way to Paris for a three-month summer stay with some friends—a stay that was extended… to 15 years! “When I arrived, I hardly spoke any French, so working as an actress wasn’t really an option. That’s when flamenco began to play a bigger role. I quickly made my way onto the scene, both as a singer and a dancer.”

In 2018, the dancer, actress, singer, and teacher took a big leap with her partner and their three daughters, moving to a new adoptive home: Montreal. “Here, I felt like the door of possibilities would swing wide open for me. And I wasn’t wrong!”

A gift on a silver platter

When Michel Beaulac, Artistic Director of the Opéra de Montréal, offered her the opportunity to be the choreographer and solo dancer for an opera about García Lorca, Rocio couldn’t believe her luck. “As an Andalusian and an actress, García Lorca is part of my DNA, so it was truly heaven sent!”

From her first listen, she fell for the charms of Ainadamar’s music. “There’s a real fusion of opera and flamenco. The rhythms are incorporated into classical music in a very profound and authentic way, far removed from clichés. It captivated me!”

The project also hit close to home because of a link between her family history and the civil war. “My grandfather lived through it and my grandmother told me about it throughout my childhood. Relating this part of my history, today, in Montreal, is very moving. It’s like my origins and my new home have been brought together.”

The pleasure of working, on stage and in the wings

Being the choreographer while also appearing on stage as the solo dancer brings the artist great joy. “It’s wonderful to be wearing both hats. I’ve got the best of both worlds! I don’t express the same things through group choreographies as I do with my solos, so it allows me to explore.”

It has also been a great pleasure for her to work with stage director Brian Staufenbiel, who gives creative artists a lot of freedom. “Flamenco is far from anecdotal in the work, and Brian trusted me completely. I also worked with Dominique Guindon for the costumes, so that we could make sure the movements wouldn’t be constrained, without misrepresenting the clothing of the period.”

Women at the revolution’s core

From the start, through her group choreography, Rocio sought to bring to life the women who, during the revolution, committed themselves to the struggle and took their fate into their own hands.

“These were women who did not let themselves be swept away by tragedy. Mothers who, after having lost everything, decided to take up arms and fight for freedom—that of their country, of their sisters. In Europe, Spanish women were the first to have the right to vote, and the right to abortion came very early, but all this was overturned during the war. It’s very important to me, as a woman and a mother of women, to remember that we are never safe from losing it all again. Nothing can be taken for granted. Even today.”

An unforgettable work

What will the audience take from this opera in which music and dance are so closely intertwined, and in which Spain is put to the fire and sword? “I think it is a very special opera that is not soon forgotten. And who knows, perhaps spectators will be made more aware of the history of Spain and be inspired to delve into García Lorca’s spectacular body of work? That is what I hope.”