Flamenco originated in the Andalusia region of Spain. And while the discipline has traveled far and wide, to this day, the most renowned flamenco acts hail from Spain. In the past few years, local audiences have had the pleasure of witnessing some of Spain's most treasured companies. To kick off the new decade, the Performing Arts Center of Herzliya has invited Antonio Marquez, a true flamenco star, back to the country. This is Marquez's third visit and will include performances in Haifa, Herzliya, Jerusalem and Rishon Lezion. In the past, most big dance acts have been brought here by either the Suzanne Dellal Center or the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. Marquez's visit is part of a new initiative by the directors of Herzliya Performing Arts Center. The company's performances are part of a dance series which will host several local troupes, as well as the Jasmin Vardimon Dance Company from England in March. Marquez was born in Seville in 1963. By 19 he was already a lead dancer in the National Ballet of Spain. Marquez was an immediate star, although attention was not something he was used to. He explains, "I was a very shy child. Dance allowed me to express my feelings on stage and as such I lost my shyness and my fear of crowds. I discovered that through dance I can express all of my feelings without fear. That's what attracted me in the beginning." To this day, Marquez is considered to be the finest example of the classic Spanish dancer. After 13 years on stage, he founded his own company in 1995. He drew his first seeds of inspiration from the famous toreadors of Spain. Mesmerized by their grace and elegance, Marquez began to dream up dances. As a choreographer, Marquez draws on his rich understanding of the art of flamenco. His works include elements from classical and modern dance and yet they stay true to the traditional flamenco form. By orchestrating a delicate harmony between invention and preservation, Marquez has designed a style for himself which is one of a kind. His company travels extensively around Spain and abroad. In addition, Marquez is not afraid of hard work. In fact, the nitty-gritty of creating dance is his favorite part of the job. "In order to execute a show on stage, you have to rehearse many many hours in the studio. Every rehearsal, every show, every creation is a pleasure for me," he explains. "There aren't a lot of people who get to work doing what they love to do. For me this is an opportunity to work with what I love most, which is dance." His cast is comprised of celebrated flamenco artists which Marquez says has both positive and negative aspects. "The energy we expend on employees who consider themselves to be 'stars' rather than artists is a challenge. Although everything looks pleasant from the outside, the life of a dancer is very difficult. You have to work extremely hard on a regular basis. The dance world is very exhausting and you have to cope with that," he says. However, Marquez focuses on the positive. He feels passionately about continuing to create, travel and perform. When asked about his future goals, he replies, "My aspirations have always been the same: to continue to communicate every time I am on stage. That my company will enjoy and will give the crowd pleasure. That the audience will leave my shows moved as I do." Perhaps the most enjoyable element of any good flamenco performance is the energy possessed by the dancers and musicians on stage. They seem to convey both an intense desire to connect with the crowd as well as an immense joy for their art. They are at once proud and humble. Marquez is an expert in this field. For him, each show is a new opportunity to surprise both himself and the crowd. "The magic that is created between artist and audience can be awakened in any place. Every performance was exciting for me," he says. Antonio Marquez will perform at Herzliya Performing Arts Center (1-700-70-29-29) from January 13 to 16, at the Haifa Auditorium on January 17, Rishon Lezion Performing Arts Center on January 18 and at Jerusalem's Sherover Theater on January 20.