Profile: Daphne Huang Vargas

Published on 15 March 2016

A Flamenco dancer and medical doctor, Daphne Huang Vargas bridges worlds beyond dance.

BY PAMELA HO

Her nickname is La Niña de Fuego. Translated from Spanish, it means ‘the daughter of fire’. Given to her by her Flamenco teacher, mentor (and eventual husband), Antonio Vargas, it hints at Daphne Huang’s demeanour on stage: uninhibited, sensual, fiery.

But Huang, who goes by the stage name Daphne Huang Vargas, is quick to qualify that, growing up, she was shy, even a little nerdy. “I was studying to be a medical doctor, and that took up a lot of my time!” she admits with a chuckle, adding that she started dance-training only when she joined the Dance Ensemble at the National University of Singapore.

Though Huang has studied jazz, modern, salsa and ballroom dancing, it has been the Flamenco that has captivated her. Flamenco, she explains, originated from the gypsies or gitano — a nomadic people with Indian, Arabic and Jewish roots — who settled in Spain. “Originally, Flamenco wasn’t performed on stage. It was for the gypsies to express themselves, their hardships, among family members. What is attractive, but overwhelming for many Asians, is its emotive quality and intensity.”

The mother of two admits that shedding inhibitions has never been a problem for her. On stage, she seems almost a different creature. Her metamorphosis may be attributed in part to her extensive training under her husband over the past eight years, as well as renowned Flamenco artists such as Maria Pagés, Aida Gomez and Carmen Talegona.

In 2009, Huang — together with Vargas and four other Singaporean dancers — formed Flamenco Sin Fronteras (Flamenco Without Borders). The group was registered as a non-profit company in 2011, and Huang is its director and senior dancer.

Today, she continues to be ‘Dr Huang’ in the mornings, ‘Mummy’ in the afternoons, and ‘Daphne Huang Vargas’ in the evenings, teaching classes with her husband in their home studio in Geylang, or rehearsing for performances.

The dynamic duo has also bridged cultures by collaborating with local arts groups and infusing Singaporean culture into Flamenco. Journey of Time (2015), for example, was staged in collaboration with Maya Dance Theatre; The House (2013) fused Peranakan culture with Flamenco; and Chi Flamenco is a project in the pipeline that will blend Flamenco with Chinese culture.

“I believe Asian Flamenco artists have their own diverse styles and unique identities,” says Huang, adding that it’s a theme she and her troupe will explore at this year’s Singapore Flamenco Festival.

Community outreach is also close to Huang’s heart. Since 2014, Flamenco Sin Fronteras has worked with the Singapore Association for Mental Health, running workshops for patients (mostly with schizophrenia) to involve them in performances, and to co-create multidisciplinary works with them. “To see them coming out of their shell, getting engaged and enjoying themselves is very satisfying.”

Flamenco Sin Fronteras will present the Singapore Flamenco Festival 2016 from 21 May to 12 June. Stay updated at www.flamencosinfronteras.com.sg.

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