A history of flamenco in Santa Fe
A history of f lamenco in Santa Fe
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