Vancouver International Flamenco Festival founders Victor Kolstee and Rosario Ancer. Photo by VNB.
Vancouver International Flamenco Festival founders Victor Kolstee and Rosario Ancer. Photo by VNB.

From small beginnings can come big things, as the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival celebrates a quarter century.

Growing from a single evening of performances by students from the flamenco dance school run by Rosario Ancer and her husband Victor Kolstee, the annual festival has blossomed into a two week program that includes an art exhibit, performances and workshops from some of the world’s most renowned flamenco dancers.

“This is a labour of love for my husband and me,” says Ancer. “When we came here twenty-six years ago, flamenco was not where it is now and there wasn’t an understanding of the art form. We’re very happy to say we have contributed the understanding and acceptance of flamenco in Vancouver.”

With its origins in the Andalusia area of southern Spain in the 18th century, flamenco has grown from a regional combination of folk music and dance to a worldwide phenomenon that has seen huge growth in North America and, perhaps surprisingly, in Japan.

“It is everywhere,” says Ancer. “Go to any country, even in the smallest of places, and you will find someone that is into flamenco.”

Originally from Mexico, Ancer’s arrival in Vancouver comes by way of Spain, where she met her husband while the two studied the art of flamenco together.

“I thought I was going to stay in Spain for six months, but ended up staying for six years,” she says. “In Mexico I had learned how to dance, but I knew there was something missing that you can only find in Spain.”

Having completed their Masters in flamenco, the duo settled in Kolstee’s hometown of Vancouver in 1989, and less than a year later found themselves producing their first festival. Now in its 25th year, the Vancouver International Flamenco Festival has grown over the years to include a combination of paid and free performances, workshops and other events over a two week period.

Ancer is particularly excited about a new addition this year, the Arte y Pasion Exhibit, a collection of works from Vancouver artists that capture the “duende” or “soul” of flamenco. She is also looking forward to hosting renowned Spanish dancers Andrés Peña and Pilar Ogalla in a performance of Cadiz De La Frontera, among others.

“There is a universal message with flamenco, regardless of who you are,” says Ancer of the festival’s longevity. “We believe it is an art form born with a mixture of cultures in Spain, with a message of inclusiveness. Vancouver is very multicultural and flamenco represents that really well.”

Asked if there was a particular moment in the festival’s quarter century that stood out for her, Ancer hesitates a moment and admits that it really is about the support that Vancouver audiences have shown her and husband over the years.

“Every year I am amazed at how Vancouver audiences react to the festival, and I am always so thankful for that,” she says. “It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve never stopped marveling at how Vancouver has accepted us.”

The 2015 Vancouver International Flamenco Festival with combination of free and paid events from September 12-27. Visit http://flamencorosario.org for tickets and information.