Susannah Grant comes Face to Face with Cristiane Azem, acclaimed Director, Dancer and Artistic Producer. Originally from Sao Paulo, Cristiane weaves her oriental heritage into her love of belly dancing and explores movement from a fascinating anthropological standpoint.
How old were you when you first started dancing?
I started out with modern ballet and contemporary dance aged 10. Later, aged 15, I was introduced to Flamenco and Spanish folkloric dance for the first time and I instantly fell in love with it. My love of Oriental dance came to me through my family as my father was Lebanese.
You have three strands to your business. Tell us more
Yes, I do. I have had a Dance School in the centre of Madrid for 15 years, where I teach and direct various artistic training projects for professional and amateur students and we put on several artistic productions every year.
In addition, I am a stage director of projects of other professional artists such as the great Flamenco dancer Manuel Reyes or the creator Lenna Beauty from Brazil, as well as international artistic events, mainly in Turkey.
Finally, the third strand of my work is focused on me as a dancer in my own shows, and also as a guest dancer for musicians such as Eduardo Paniagua, Emilio Sanz, Efren Lopez and Misirli Ahmed among others.
What is it that makes your dance school different from others?
Before opening my own school, I taught for 10 years, focussing not only on the dance technique itself but also on the importance of the anthropological and historical features of Eastern culture.
When I opened my own school, I pioneered a method that I call TRANSVERSAL DANCE whereupon I incorporate the experience of literature, the arts, philosophy, anthropology and history into the very heart of teaching of dance. In this way I don’t categorise the students by their level, we practise more of ” a vertical-style learning”, just like it is done in the Eastern way.
Is there a huge difference between the different countries well-known for belly dancing such as Turkey and Middle Eastern nations?
Whilst there is a great variety of styles, there isn´t a huge difference because the steps and movements are similar. However, the way of performing them is the differentiating factor and it is very enriching to study the Oriental dance of each particular region, as well as the different periods and the personal style of the great dancers of the past.
What is the history of belly dancing?
The history of Belly Dancing goes back to the history of human mankind. Starting with the first sacred dances to goddesses and gods and then social dances as a means of communal identification which later became engrained in folklore.
And then came the artistic phase that we know more superficially as “Belly Dance” which was popularised at the beginning of the 20th century by Egyptian cinema. Today belly dancing continues to evolve, often far beyond its origins or its artistic purity.
What is the knack for mastering those tiny, impressive shakes of one´s stomach area?
The first thing is to recognise your own body as having different parts, yet one energy flowing through it. Then you start to investigate the specific movements of each zone in order to isolate them. This way the “shakes”, “shimmies”, “snakes” and “ondulating movements” gradually appear as something powerful, pleasurable and sensual.
What do Flamenco and Belly Dancing have in common?
Both Flamenco and Belly Dancing have long historical roots that stem from our need to connect with the forces of nature and pass down a cultural legacy to generations to come. Flamenco has a particular musical rhythm that the dancer has to master in order to dance it well. Whereas belly dancing, at first sight appears more subtly sensual and graceful. Both invigorate both body and soul and are very restorative!
What advice would you give to anyone who thinks they have 2 left feet?
Everybody in the world is able to dance. Dance is a gift we all have and if you are shown the doors, you can walk through them without fear and feel all its magic.
What is your secret Madrid?
My “secret Madrid” are the windows of my School which are very close to the sky of the Plaza de Tirso de Molina, in the city centre. There I can see wonderful sunsets and the moon… and the trees changing according to the season, I love that.
What´s next for Cristiane Azem?
I have three new dance plays about to be released in theatres:
JAMSA dedicated to the Woman of the Orient.
METÁFORA PARA FRIDA dedicated to the work and life of Frida Kahlo combined with women’s poetry.
And the other one, BOHEMIAN VINTAGE, is a show dedicated to an imaginary oriental café in the 30s.
I am also developing a project about García Lorca with important flamenco musicians where we will incorporate the Japanese Butoh technique into flamenco and Lorca’s poetry.
And as on top of all of that I’m preparing the edition of my first book on the anthropological evolution of dance. So lots to look forward to!
Sapient samba dancer, Perla tells us how dance has opened numerous doors in her life and those of others in her native Brazil.
How old were you when you first started dancing?
I was 5 years old when my aunt taught me my first Samba steps. By 7 years old I was entering Lambada competitions and by 11 I was choregraphing my own dance routines and I got into traditional folkloric dancing which is huge in Belem, my birth city. At 16 I formed a dance group for lambada, mambo y folk dancing. I am actually self-taught, learning by osmosis from all the influences that surrounded me.
What does dance mean to you?
Dance spells freedom! In order for one to dance you have to shed lots of beliefs, prejudices and fixed mindset. Despite studying IT, in the end dance won me over and took me to Spain aged 22 with 200 euros in my pocket. This is where I really felt fully free to dance.
What is it about teaching dance that you like especially?
I like to emphasise to my students that anyone and everyone is able to dance any kind of dance, as long as you feel liberated. And also teach them to feel free to dance so that they feel that sense of freedom for themselves!
Tell us about your charity, Perlas da Amazonia
Everything I do both professionally and personally is related to the cause of promoting the Amazon and its people. It´s a lifelong passion of mine and involves two-way cultural, touristic and sustainability programmes to promote the Amazon to those outside and help those within. It´s very exciting to watch it thrive and grow.
What sort of events does your company organise?
Prosperity Art Production organises shows and cultural workshops; audiovisual productions including digital marketing, editing and recording as well as event management (both corporate and private fairs etc) We have worked in Tourism Fairs in Madrid, Lisbon and Berlin, put on a Christmas Show for the Prado and a charity event for Circo Price amongst other activities.
What is the history of Samba?
Samba has a long history of amalgamating sounds from Europe, Africa with local indigenous rhythms. The strong drum beat is similar to one´s own heartbeat.
You´re also a trained pilates teacher, is dancing samba helpful for pilates?
It helps as good coordination and body sense is fundamental but it´s not strictly helpful as such.
What advice would you give to anyone who thinks they have 2 left feet?
Shut your eyes, feel the music and let your body flow. Tell yourself you can dance and the power of your positive mind will enable you to do it!
What´s next for Perla Gomes?
To grow my business digitally and to carry on with Perlas da Amazonia until it´s up there as one of the most important charities in the world!
This month we talk to German-born Katharina von
Samson, former lawyer, current jewellery designer, volunteer gardener, seamstress,
German School Parents’ Board member who has brought up 4 children and in
addition to all of the above, still finds time to play the piano and participate
in book clubs in Switzerland.
What brought you to Madrid in 2017?
We were simply looking for a change as neither mine nor my husband´s job tie us down to any particular place. So we took advantage of the fact we only had our 4th child, Amata, living at home and chose to move to one of the most wonderful cities in Europe.
How has it been different from living in Berne for 12 years?
Madrid is 44.3662 times bigger in terms of population, is 111 meters higher up, yet both have a bear in the city seal!
Why did you give up your job as a research assistant to Professor Paul Kirchhof, Vice President of the German Constitutional Court?
I was standing at my third child’s cot shouting at my daughter to fall asleep so I could get back to work – when I decided to switch my priorities.
Why did it take you long to accept that you are now a professionaljewellery designer?
I always felt a positive tension between academic challenges to the mind and the joy of manual creativity. After a long education, I felt tempted and compelled to practice law. My creative side needed to outgrow a hobby before I realized that they are equivalent.
What are you favourite materials?
Anything that has life and colour in it and uncommon combinations such as shells with rubies.
What other artistic talents do you have?
Other means of expression are singing in the German School Choir, sewing (including my own wedding dress), playing the piano and interior decorating (relocating is a wonderful excuse!). When one of them is high up on my agenda, I go at it full tilt for weeks.
Your interest in music has led you to support a Peruvian charity, tell us more.
I believe that music is an essential element of child education and want to make it available to as many children the world over as I can.
Tell us how you got involved with the vibrant German community in Madrid.
Having relocated frequently, I’m pretty good at seeking
out hot spots of interesting activity. The Protestant German Church (“Friedenskirche”)
provided a home from home and an opportunity to enjoy a bit of gardening which
living in an apartment here doesn’t offer. I believe that schools are more than
just a place to keep kids busy and so I decided to volunteer on the Board of Parents
of the German School.
Has anything surprised you about Madrid and its people?
Coming from notoriously punctual and “spic-and-span” clean Switzerland, I was pleasantly surprised not to find a significant difference over here.
What is your secret Madrid?
Browsing for creative material in the many craft supply shops between Plaza Mayor and Calle de Atocha.
If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next in your life?
I´d be in the same place with two additional hands.
Today we talk to Laura Fontán, who together with her husband Diego Cortiza, founded an unusual slow fashion brand in Hanoi known as Chula and are revolutionising the textile industry worldwide with their visionary, responsible approach to global brand building.
How did Chula start?
Well, quite by
chance. We arrived in Vietnam in 2004 and immediately fell in love with the
people, the exotic food and the traditional culture. I loved having clothes
made there and soon asked Diego to apply his artistic skills as a trained
architect to designing outfits for me.
People started to inquire about my clothes and comment “how chula
(cool) and can I have one too…?” So before we knew it we were producing a small
collection of clothes on a tiny scale and selling them in other outlets before
opening our own workshop and flagship store in Hanoi. We now have branches in
Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok and Pop ups round the world.
Is it true that 80% of your workforce have a disability?
found it difficult to find skilled seamstresses to make our clothes we were
directed to a local charity-funded school that trained deaf people in three to
five-year dressmaking courses. Ironically, disability is often partly
compensated by significant talent in other non-related areas. In addition to
being highly skilled, our workforce are extremely loyal, hardworking and as
such they truly form the backbone of the Chula community and are very much part
of our extended family. Our corporate language is sign language! Due to our own
positive experience we also try to persuade other businesses to hire employees
with some disability.
Are the Vietnamese at all similar in any way to Spaniards?
Very much so.
Vietnamese society revolves around family, food and being out and about in the
street – just like in Spain! They also place a huge value on education and are
a very proud nation. As foreigners it’s important to come armed with a certain
degree of respect, which you can earn little by little, a bit like in Northern
Spain or else they won’t take any notice of you. Vietnam reminds me of the Spain
of my childhood in Galicia.
You make clothes for men as well but how would you define the “Chula woman”?
A lot of our
clothes are custom made which is why our customers are so diverse both in terms
of body shape, colour and age. We’ve had customers ranging from grandmothers to
teens! However, they are all women who value clothes with a heritage and story
behind them. The typical Chula woman is more interested original clothes than
the latest fashion trends. Chula is about handmade sustainable slow fashion
than up to the minute designs you throw away after one season.
What´s the running theme in your Chula collections?
clothes are like a blank canvas on which you project your own areas of interest
such as culture, food and art. Chula clothes are literally wearable art. Our
collections are inspired by Vietnamese heritage such as the 54 ethnic
minorities in Northern Vietnam with their own prints and techniques.. We have
about 40 collections ranging from animal prints to brightly coloured geometric
patterns – above all they are fun and reflect the local culture whether that be
through prints inspired by Hanoi railings, a pizza print dress we launched in
Rome or a silk bull dress in Spain!
What is wearable happiness?
We inject colour
and humour into our collections which lift the spirits both of the wearer and
the admirer. Our clothes are a magnet for comment, they’re real conversation
pieces whenever they’re seen and instantly recognisable no matter where you
You have Pop Ups all over the world, from Geneva to Jakarta, what´s next for Chula Fashion?
Our aim is to continue have different Chula shops all over the world and transform it into a global brand that emphasises our social commitment and values and pays homage to the rich cultural heritage of the host countries. See www.chulafashion.com/pages/events for details of a Pop Up near you.
Couture is not what it was……nowadays it´s so much better” beams Isabel Goiri
Basaldúa, the third generation Creative Director of Casa Basaldúa who talks to
us about her innovative plans to keep the family-owned fashion house at the
forefront of design in Spain.
Casa Basaldúa has been a glittering reference for elegant Haute Couture in Madrid for three generations, how has the House evolved since your grandparents founded it in 1956?
the generations before me were very much fashion visionaries in their own way.
My grandmother, Luisa de la Quintana would travel frequently to Paris to source
cutting-edge fabrics and techniques that were hitherto unknown here in Madrid.
Whilst my mother, Chus Basaldúa, put Casa Basaldúa firmly on the haute couture
bridal gown map, introducing colour into wedding designs for the first time.
Having literally grown up in the atelier I took over the creative helm in 2011
and since then we have chartered a course that encompasses a prêt-à-porter
collection and even a jeans´ line alongside our bespoke haute couture wedding
What sets Casa Basaldúa apart from other Haute Couture designers?
the ability to really interpret a woman from the inside out because when you
really understand the core of that woman it comes through in the clothes you
design for her. There are many other fashion houses that design wonderful
clothes but they don’t focus as much on the woman who wears them as we do. To
the extent that there have been many occasions when we’ve come to know our
clients better than she does.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
everywhere and anywhere. For example, the metro is a great mecca for fashion
ideas as you see so much diversity in people, ages and looks.
Why the return to designing a fashion line alongside the bridal collection?
Well, we wanted to reach more women with pieces she can have fun with. This year’s prêt-à-porter collection crosses over seamlessly from day to evening and it’s very versatile with giant poppers and interchangeable straps.Dressing up in the evening seems to be having a bit of a revival these days.
Tells us about the launch of your new techno-creative fashion school, La Tecnocreativa in Madrid this Autumn
Yes, we’re very
excited as for years we’ve seen the decline of many of the old dressmaking
skills that were once part of our heritage in Spain. We intend to revive these
crafts such as traditional patternmaking, embroidery and lacemaking. Our
courses are Basaldúa-branded and they will be very functional and practical.
Ironically, many fashion students these days don’t know how to put together a
meaningful portfolio that really does them justice.
Does technology play an important role in Casa Basaldúa?
love the combination of the both the physical and digital practice of
designing. Technology and innovation also play a key role in our courses such
as how to put together digital moodboards, using 3D and virtual reality in
What would you do if you weren’t a fashion designer?
I’d love to be a
potter….practising the ancient Japanese art of Raku. I did a course one summer
and fell in love with the technique.
Who are your favourite iconic fashion designers?
Well they run
the full spectrum of Gandhi at one end who actually wove his own clothes to
Steve MacQueen at the other!
How does Spanish Haute Couture differ from the Italian or the French?
I think that
creativity and cutting-edge style is in our blood yet we don’t shout about it.
The Italians are certainly the best marketeers as well as the French to a
lesser extent. However, the Spanish are much more reserved about promoting our
products. We need to nurture the Haute Couture legacy that we have, hence the
need for a technical fashion school that champions our heritage.
What’s your secret Madrid?
dinner in Rasputin. Both my husband and I studied Russian and this is a
much-loved haunt of ours.
Casa Basaldúa, Calle Serrano 8. Madrid Tel 913 08 11 26. www.basaldua.es