January 21, 2019

An international flamenco fiesta comes to VPAC

When flamenco star Leilah Broukhim performs at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) in Northridge with Jose Porcel’s famed dance company, Compania Flamenca, on Nov. 20, flamenco fans around the Southland will be clamoring to see the pair together for the first time.  

Broukhim grew up in an Iranian-Jewish family in New York, but Spain was always in her blood — her father’s family is one of only a few Iranian families that actually trace their lineage to that part of the world, she said. So, in some ways, it was no surprise that Broukhim, who has studied ballet, tap and jazz dance, said flamenco “took me by storm” when she first discovered it while at Columbia University. 

She had originally enrolled in college to study film, but decided to move to Spain for a year to learn flamenco. As Broukhim recalled it, “One year kind of turned into 15 years. Definitely not my plan, but I can’t really imagine my life any other way.”

The dancer said flamenco is about much more than body movement or music.

“In order to be part … of this art form … you have to be part of the subculture,” Broukhim said. That was something she pursued while living in Madrid, a city dotted with tablaos — pubs where flamenco performances are held — drawing in locals and tourists from around the world. Flamenco performers, even from other parts of Spain, flock to Madrid for its flamenco scene.

According to Broukhim, flamenco has unique challenges as a dance form.  

“Flamenco is live, and there are specific rhythms … we all follow, but a lot of it is based on improvisation,” she said. It relies on a real sharing of energy among the dancers, singers and instrumentalists who perform together. 

An outsider at first, Broukhim said she was eventually welcomed into the Spanish flamenco community. 

She also has had contact with the Jewish community in Spain, particularly through an organization called Centro Sefarad-Israel, which promotes Jewish culture in the country. Broukhim has been working with the organization since 2007, and it even helped her as she developed a special show, “Dejando Huellas” (Traces), which explores her Sephardic and Iranian heritage. The show, which she has performed throughout Europe and in New York City, “fuses flamenco with Sephardic music and Persian music,” she said, adding that she would like to bring it to Los Angeles one day.

Broukhim’s visit to Southern California was arranged after she received an email about a year ago from Thor Steingraber, VPAC executive director, complimenting her on her work. He indicated that Porcel had been booked to perform and asked her “whether I’d be interested in performing as a guest artist in the show,” Broukhim said.

“I said, ‘Yes, if Jose and his people are up for it, I think it’s a great idea,’ ” continued Broukhim, who knew of Porcel’s reputation but had never worked with him. Porcel agreed, and soon Broukhim found herself partnered with his company.

“He was very generous in wanting to include me in the show,” she said. “We had a couple of rehearsals in Madrid before they went on tour. … The numbers are fantastic, and the dancers are amazing.”

Broukhim will be doing two solo numbers as part of the performance.

“One is a traditional solea … that is a very solemn and slow flamenco … rhythm,” she explained. “In the second half … I’m doing a shorter number called a tangos, which is also a traditional flamenco palo [rhythm], and a little more festive and lively, a little more playful.” 

At the end of the show, Broukhim will dance with some of Porcel’s company in a fin de fiesta, a traditional flamenco encore.

While in town, Broukhim also will be teaching dance classes at CSU Northridge, as well as a flamenco master class for more advanced flamenco students at the MKM Cultural Arts Center in North Hollywood. She’ll also perform in a more intimate show at the Odyssey Theatre on Nov. 22 as part of the “Forever Flamenco” series, which is produced by the Fountain Theatre. 

For tickets and more information about Leilah Broukhim and Compania Flamenca Jose Porcel at the Valley Performing Arts Center, visit the VPAC website.