The spirit of fla­menco in New Mex­ico

Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS -

Fla­menco may have orig­i­nated in southern Spain, but it has be­come as New Mex­i­can as the Zia sym­bol. On any given night, a bailaora is per­form­ing on a Land of En­chant­ment stage, fus­ing in­tense pas­sion, emo­tion, and tech­nique in this sin­gu­lar art form. It is only fit­ting, then, that the next ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion at Santa Fe’s Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art is Fla­menco: From Spain to New

Mex­ico, open­ing on Sun­day, Nov. 22. Among the ex­hibit’s over 150 ob­jects are play­bills, albums, pho­tos, paint­ings, in­stru­ments, and cos­tume sketches. A Sevil­lan fe­ria (fair) street scene will be recre­ated, as will the bed­room of Betty Serna Cár­de­nas, the 1948 Reina de la Fi­esta de Santa Fe, in which Cár­de­nas’ fla­menco sheet mu­sic and cos­tumes at­test to the mul­ti­fac­eted na­ture of the dance. Visi­tors will be able to play with cas­tanets, try on cos­tumes, and watch in­struc­tional videos to learn pal­mas (hand­clap­ping) and the ca­jón (a per­cus­sion in­stru­ment). If in­spired by what they see, they can try out their own fla­menco skills on a small dance floor.

The ex­hibit’s in­ter­ac­tiv­ity un­der­mines as­sump­tions that fla­menco is solely a per­for­mance art. It is vis­ual, au­ral, tac­tile, and thor­oughly dy­namic. And it is at its heart a folk­loric tra­di­tion, ex­plains Ni­co­lasa Chávez, cu­ra­tor of the ex­hibit and au­thor of its ac­com­pa­ny­ing book, The Spirit of Fla­menco: From

Spain to New Mex­ico (Mu­seum of New Mex­ico Press). “It be­gan with the fam­i­lies; it be­gan with the peo­ple,” Chávez said, speak­ing to Pasatiempo of fla­menco’s An­dalu­sian roots. The chronol­ogy of those roots is de­bated, but fla­menco is be­lieved to have de­vel­oped af­ter the Gi­tano, or Gypsy, peo­ple came to Spain from the east dur­ing the me­dieval era and in­ter­min­gled with the cul­tures al­ready there, in­clud­ing Moors and Sephardic Jews.

Color­ful, in­tri­cate cos­tumes are in­ter­spersed through­out the ex­hibit, dat­ing from 1888 to last

year. High­lights in­clude eight cos­tumes from the com­pany of José Greco — one of fla­menco’s big­gest stars — and a col­lec­tion of María Benítez’s early cos­tumes, such as her first prac­tice skirt and the bata de cola (dress with a train) she wore on the cover of Dance Mag­a­zine in 1984. Benítez is a prin­ci­pal fig­ure in the es­tab­lish­ment of New Mex­ico as a fla­menco cen­ter, hav­ing co­founded (with hus­band Ce­cilio) Santa Fe’s María Benítez Teatro Fla­menco and In­sti­tute for Span­ish Arts.

One of the ex­hibit’s most sur­pris­ing cos­tumes is a bata de cola made of re­cy­cled wed­ding ki­monos, de­signed by Tokyo dancer and cos­tume de­signer Hawhiko Okuhama. The dress is a tes­ta­ment to the pop­u­lar­ity of fla­menco in­ter­na­tion­ally, and par­tic­u­larly in Ja­pan, where there are hun­dreds of Span­ish-dance schools. Fla­menco “has a univer­sal feel be­cause it cap­tures ev­ery hu­man emo­tion,” Chávez said. “It is hap­pi­ness, it’s sad­ness, it’s pride, it’s de­spair. It ev­ery­thing any­one can feel. If you can’t ex­press it in words, you cer­tainly ex­press it in dance and mu­sic and song via fla­menco.”

Notwith­stand­ing its uni­ver­sal­ity, there is some­thing par­tic­u­lar about fla­menco’s strong ties to New Mex­ico. Those ties are strong, but they are not as far-reach­ing as they are some­times thought to be — Chávez writes in the ex­hi­bi­tion’s ac­com­pa­ny­ing book that the no­tion that fla­menco “came to the state along the Camino Real with the Span­ish con­quis­ta­dores and fri­ars” is a “pop­u­lar mis­con­cep­tion.” In re­al­ity, fla­menco ar­rived in New Mex­ico in the 20th cen­tury, in the years fol­low­ing the turn-of-the-cen­tury U.S. pop cul­ture “Span­ish craze.” Even at the time of its en­try into the United States, Span­ish dance spanned the arts: John Singer Sar­gent painted El Ja­leo — with a cen­tral dancer who makes Madame X look quaint — in 1882, and Thomas Edi­son filmed the dancer Car­mencita, the “Pearl of Seville,” in 1894.

The 1940s and ’50s were trans­for­ma­tional in fla­menco in the United States. Span­ish com­pa­nies came to Amer­ica to per­form, while films such as Som­brero (1953) widened the au­di­ence for Span­ish cul­ture even fur­ther. That film show­cased the tal­ents of Greco, whose com­pany was among the first to per­form shows ex­clu­sively of fla­menco; an­other com­pany to do so was that of Barcelona-born dancer Car­men Amaya, the “epit­ome of pure, raw, un­tam­able Gypsy fla­menco,” writes Chávez. (Greco was born in Italy and raised in Brook­lyn.)

One young viewer of Som­brero — a clip of which is in the Spirit of Fla­menco ex­hibit — was Santa Fe’s Vi­cente Romero, whose in­spi­ra­tion from the film set his life’s course. In 1964, af­ter train­ing and per­form­ing around the world, Romero de­buted at the now-de­funct restau­rant El Nido in Te­suque, which quickly be­came a hot­bed of Span­ish-dance artistry. Dur­ing the opera sea­son, he would per­form twice nightly, and he be­gan bring­ing singers and gui­tarists over from Spain. “A lot of lo­cal peo­ple got their first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence learn­ing fla­menco via th­ese per­form­ers, be­cause af­ter the shows, there would be all-night jam ses­sions,” said Chávez. Romero be­gan part­ner­ing with Benítez at El Nido in 1969. Af­ter Romero de­parted to found a show at El Gan­cho off Old Las Vegas High­way (also now closed), Benítez took over at El Nido, of­ten per­form­ing to sold-out au­di­ences. The ex­hibit fea­tures items from each of th­ese key devel­op­ments in fla­menco’s history. Th­ese in­clude early play­bills of Greco and Amaya, video footage and film clips of both, a paint­ing of Romero by artist Bernique Lon­g­ley, and pho­to­graphs of Benítez at El Nido.

In the en­su­ing decades, New Mex­i­cans have made their home state the un­of­fi­cial na­tional cen­ter of fla­menco. Al­bu­querque hosts the Fes­ti­val Fla­menco Internacional de Al­bu­querque, founded by dancer Eva Encinias-San­doval in her home­town in 1987 and put on by Al­bu­querque’s Na­tional In­sti­tute of Fla­menco, also founded by Encinias-San­doval. The fes­ti­val brings in tal­ent from around the world for nightly per­for­mances and dozens of work­shops. Encinias-San­doval be­gan teach­ing fla­menco classes at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico in 1976. To­day the depart­ment of theater and dance at UNM of­fers the only un­der­grad­u­ate and graduate de­gree fla­menco pro­grams in the world. The state’s many res­i­dent com­pa­nies in­clude Juan Siddi Fla­menco Santa Fe, which es­tab­lished an in­no­va­tive part­ner­ship with Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let in 2014; En­trefla­menco, co-di­rected by An­to­nio Gran­jero and Este­fa­nia Ramirez; EmiArteFla­menco, dancer Emmy “La Emi” Grimm’s com­pany; and Je­sus Muñoz’s com­pany Casa Fla­menca.

Fla­menco pro­vides a rare op­por­tu­nity to see the evo­lu­tion of this lo­cal history — and na­tional and global history — in ob­jects. Fla­menco’s her­itage will also be cel­e­brated in the ex­hibit’s open­ing events, which will fea­ture per­for­mances. Events later in the run of the ex­hibit will ex­tend the ed­u­ca­tion and cel­e­bra­tion. For in­stance, on March 20, 2016, Uxía Nars, a group of Basque and Gali­cian mu­si­cians, will per­form songs that in­cor­po­rate the po­ems of Fed­erico Gar­cía Lorca, who con­trib­uted to the spread­ing pop­u­lar­ity of fla­menco through his poetry, plays, and writ­ings on the con­cept of duende, the in­tense pas­sion and emo­tion that emerge dur­ing artis­tic ex­pres­sion and orig­i­nate from some­thing deep and time­less.

Given fla­menco’s folk­loric an­ces­try of be­ing passed down across gen­er­a­tions, the ex­hibit fits squarely within the tra­di­tion it cel­e­brates. Like those all-night jam ses­sions in 1960s Te­suque, it of­fers at­ten­dees a chance to learn about, cel­e­brate, and share their ap­pre­ci­a­tion for this time­less art form.

The ex­hibit’s in­ter­ac­tiv­ity un­der­mines as­sump­tions that fla­menco is solely a per­for­mance art. It is vis­ual, au­ral, tac­tile, and thor­oughly dy­namic.

José Greco, circa 1950s Top right, Man­tón, 2001, by Kat­suta Shin­pyo, an artist who trav­eled to Spain and was en­thralled with fla­menco.

Op­po­site page, from left to right, Vi­cente Romero, María Benítez, Carla Du­ran, and Miguel Romero, 1970; top, Car­men Amaya, circa 1950s Im­ages cour­tesy Mu­seum of New Mex­ico Press

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