A history of fla­menco in Santa Fe

A history of f lamenco in Santa Fe

Pasatiempo - - FRONT PAGE - Michae lW ade Simp­son For The New Mex­i­can

ut­side of Spain, the mother­land for fla­menco, Santa Fe may be able to boast of hav­ing the most cas­tanets per capita. Dur­ing the sum­mer here, it’s pos­si­ble to en­joy ful­lon fla­menco pro­duc­tions — in­clud­ing the req­ui­site stamp­ing feet, ruf­fled dresses, vir­tu­osic gui­tars, and Gypsy singers — in bars, in restau­rants, and on stages, in­clud­ing the Bandstand dur­ing Span­ish Mar­ket.

The Span­ish link to New Mexico history is clear, but the preva­lence of fla­menco in Santa Fe has more to do with one per­son: María Benítez. Start­ing in the 1960s, Benítez, a na­tive of Taos who moved to Spain to be­come a pro­fes­sional dancer, came back with a Span­ish hus­band, Ce­cilio, and the idea of mak­ing a liv­ing here as a fla­menco artist. “It took years to build an au­di­ence,” she said. “Years.”

From 1968 to 1970, the cou­ple worked at El Nido, a now-de­funct res­tau­rant/bar in Te­suque where Vi­cente Romero, a dancer, had set up a sum­mer fla­menco sea­son in the 1950s. She danced, and her hus­band worked be­hind the scenes do­ing lights and sound. “We did two shows a night, six days a week for two months ev­ery sum­mer. If four guys from the Te­suque vol­un­teer fire depart­ment came in, we’d have to do a show. At the end of the sum­mer, I would be a ca­daver,” she said.

They taught for a few win­ters at a pri­vate school in Ari­zona and in 1977 moved to New York City, where they signed with an agent and be­gan tour­ing as María Benítez Teatro Fla­menco. Over the next 30 years, they ap­peared in more than 1,500 dif­fer­ent venues around the world. They per­formed on a Perry Como Christ­mas spe­cial on TV, at the Brook­lyn Academy of Mu­sic and the Joyce Theater in New York, at Ja­cob’s Pil­low and the Amer­i­can Dance Fes­ti­val, and on tour all over the United States and Europe. Ev­ery sum­mer, how­ever, they came back to Santa Fe. “It was a hell of a lot eas­ier than tour­ing,” ac­cord­ing to Benítez.

Mean­while, in Al­bu­querque, the Theater and Dance Depart­ment at the Univer­sity of New Mexico opened the coun­try’s only de­gree-grant­ing dance pro­gram with a fla­menco con­cen­tra­tion in 1995, un­der Eva Encinias-San­doval. Encinias-San­doval also started an In­ter­na­tional Fla­menco Fes­ti­val, as well as open­ing a school (the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Fla­menco) in 1982. In Santa Fe, Benítez founded her own school (María Benítez In­sti­tute for Span­ish Arts, be­gun in 1974), a young peo­ple’s dance com­pany (Fla­menco’s Next Gen­er­a­tion, formed in 2002), and be­gan in­tro­duc­ing younger col­leagues to lo­cal au­di­ences as her own per­form­ing ca­reer wound down and ended around 2005.

In 2008, Juan Siddi, one of the Benítez com­pany’s for­mer vis­it­ing artists, was re­cruited to take over the sum­mer sea­son at The Lodge at Santa Fe (where Benítez had per­formed since 1985). In 2011, An­to­nio Gran­jero and Este­fa­nia Ramirez, a mar­ried cou­ple, be­gan their own fall sea­son of fla­menco at The Lodge with their com­pany En­trefla­menco. They took over the lease as The Lodge’s res­i­dent sum­mer com­pany in 2014, when Siddi was taken un­der the wing of Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let. Siddi’s group will now be do­ing a lot of tour­ing, just like Benítez used to do.

At El Farol, the ta­pas res­tau­rant and wa­ter­ing hole on Canyon Road, an Al­bu­querque con­tin­gent in­clud­ing Encinias-San­doval’s off­spring, Joaquín and Marisol, both sea­soned per­form­ers, chore­og­ra­phers, and teach­ers in their own right, set up shop on a pa­tio be­hind the res­tau­rant. Other Benítez pro­tégés, in­clud­ing Emmy Grimm, who ap­pears at the night­club Sky­light, and Domino Martinez, who dances regularly at El Mesón res­tau­rant, bring fla­menco to their own venues.

But what does it all mean? Fla­menco, an art form more than 300 years old, born in the Gypsy set­tle­ments of An­dalu­sia, is its own world. All the sweat, gri­mac­ing, vo­cal com­mo­tion, and fancy foot­work is en­ter­tain­ing but no doubt mys­te­ri­ous to many au­di­ence mem­bers. Why do they look so se­ri­ous? What are the singers say­ing? How can you tell a good per­for­mance from a so-so one? How can the women stand to wear those beau­ti­ful long dresses and then soak them in sweat? In an ef­fort to help fla­menco au­di­ences un­der­stand what all the emot­ing is about, Pasatiempo spoke with some of the dancers, singers, and gui­tarists who bring the art form to life.

We asked each artist to choose one palo ,a term used to cat­e­go­rize dif­fer­ent dances, each with its own me­ter, mu­sic, and rel­a­tive pro­fun­dity. Some pa­los are joy­ous and sen­sual, but many are in­formed by suf­fer­ing. The le­tra is the lyric. Com­pás are the rhythms, of­ten ar­tic­u­lated with pal­mas or clap­ping.

Juan Siddi and Carola Zer­tuche, photo Rosal ieO ’C on­nor; op­po­site page ,M aría Benítez, photo Marie Cosin­das

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