Sachiko “La Chayí” Nishiuchi discovered the art of flamenco while growing up in Osaka, Japan, on the cover of a manga book. Nishiuchi was a big fan of the Japanese graphic novels, and one particular image had her entranced. “I found this word, flamenco, and I found this image of flamenco,” she recalls.
She began to learn about the art form, and would go to see the legendary dancer Cristina Hoyos perform every time she came to Japan on tour. Nishiuchi soaked up all she could, taking whatever classes were available. When she moved to the U.S. in 2001, she found Susana di Palma, the artistic director of Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, in Minneapolis. She’d become a resident dancer with the company for six years, earning a SAGE People’s Choice Award for her dancing.
She’d eventually move to Spain, and embark on a solo career, earning grants and fellowships along the way, and performing throughout the U.S., Spain, and Japan. In 2015, she returned to the Twin Cities and became a part of the Twin Cities Flamenco Collective.
When it first started out, the collective was centered around classes and training. That all changed when the pandemic hit in 2020, and the collective couldn’t do any in-person activities.
The pandemic opened up an opportunity to address one of the issues some of the flamenco artists based in the Twin Cities faced. Namely, there weren’t many flamenco vocalists who are based here.
“Every time we did a show, we had to bring somebody in. Financially that was really difficult,” Nishiuchi says. When everything shut down in 2020, members of the collective decided to take singing classes, in order to sing for each other as the other members danced and played instruments. By 2021, the members felt they were ready to start performing.
The main group consists of artists whose primary art form is singing or playing an instrument, with all of them also singing. Their main venue has been Icehouse, where they’ve brought in guest artists — locally, nationally and internationally — for each show.
The intimacy of Icehouse has fit the flamenco form nicely, Nishiuchi says.”The distance between audience and performers seems to be really important,” she says. “I love theater performance, too, but you just don’t feel as close as you do at Icehouse to the audience.”
The venue’s raised stage is also ideal for their shows. “The audience can see the entire body of the dancer, including the footwork,” Nishiuchi says. “And also the audience can really feel the heat from the stage.”
As a group, the flamenco collective focuses on improvisation in the form of “tablao.” In Spain, a tablao is a kind of venue that features intimate, improvisational flamenco performances where the audience “can just feel the performers from the stage,” Nishiuchi says.
In the flamenco tradition, she says, tablao is where flamenco artists find their artistry. “They often do shows without any rehearsals. They just get on the stage and they just dance or they just play. It’s more like jazz.”
For Nishiuchi, each time she dances, she brings something different. “When you have live musicians, it’s just different,” she says. “How they play, how they sing — that changes how you dance. That’s why I focus on improv and as a group, we’ve been studying cante (flamenco singing) and deepening our understanding of the rhythm through cante. We are able to play with each other and feed with each other.”
This Sunday, Nishiuchi performs with the collective, part of a tour she’s doing across Minnesota. This week, they’re performing in Mankato, Lanesboro, and St. Croix Falls before performing at the Icehouse with the Twin Cities Flamenco Collective in a performance called “A Night in Andalusia.” After that, she’ll head to Southwestern Minnesota for a library tour, funded by a Minnesota State Arts Board grant.
This Sunday’s performance, “A Night in Andalusia,” features Nishiuchi and the Twin Cities Flamenco Collective, as well as guest artists Javier Heredia, a Seville-born flamenco singer and “festero,” who specializes in dancing while singing bulerías. Also on the bill is La Rhina, a flamenco dancer based in Seville. Local performers Kristofer “El Cuervo” Hill, Ross “El Vecino” Fellrath, Eva Makiko and Bobby “El Eléctrico” also perform. Sunday, Aug. 13, at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Icehouse ($25). More information here.