By Angie Drobnic
JUNE 8, 1998: Watching a live flamenco performance is the only way to truly understand the vibrancy of the art form. Women wearing flowing dresses and men in tight pants perform the intricate steps. Stamping feet and gracefully flowing arms accentuate the dance, which is almost always performed to live accompaniment.
Albuquerque is home to the largest flamenco festival in North America, the Festival Flamenco Internacional, and artists come from all over the world and flamenco's birthplace--Spain--to see performances, attend workshops and discuss the state of the art form today. Our city has become known in some circles as the "Sevilla of North America," an homage to its stature.
Instituto Flamenco has organized the festival for the past 12 years, in addition to teaching flamenco to both adults and children. The Instituto's director, Eva Enciñias Sandoval, not only runs the institute but is also on faculty at the University of New Mexico, which offers the only flamenco undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the country. Weekly Alibi recently sat down with Ms. Sandoval to discuss the history of flamenco and how we came to enjoy such an event in the Duke City.
Why do you believe Albuquerque has become the place where so much flamenco is happening?
I think that there are many things that have come together to make that happen. For one thing because it is an aspect of the indigenous cultures here. The Spanish influence that was brought to us through the conquistadores and the Spaniards that came into the New World I think have really stayed as part of our culture. ... We still very much feel the roots of Spanish influence in this state, and so for that reason I think that lends itself. ... A lot of wonderful artists have come here to live because they enjoy the active flamenco community here. That also encourages other people, students, to come here to study because there are all these wonderful teachers here. So it's just starting to gain a momentum of its own now, which is really wonderful to see.
Flamenco is becoming more popular both in America and all over the world. Can you tell me a little bit about the history of flamenco and how it's changing?
Flamenco was a form that evolved through the experience of the Gypsies that came from east India and traveled across Europe to Spain. Along the way, each country that they stopped in, they stayed for awhile (and) they intermingled with the Gypsies from that country and adapted and assimilated some of their style and tradition into the art form. As it continued to travel across Europe, it just continued like a snowball. ...
By the time they got to Spain, they decided they wanted ... to create a new form of music that would be representative of the Gypsy that ended up in southern Spain, in Andalucía, and flamenco was the outcome of that. A lot of purists of course talk about the influences of contemporary art--they criticize that influence (on flamenco), they don't feel that that is appropriate. But I think that that's a contradiction in terms, because flamenco is all about the integration of art. I feel that it needs to continue to be influenced by and stimulated by new ideas. It's like jazz--it's ever-evolving, and that's what makes it so exciting. (Or like) the blues--that kind of thing that keeps allowing itself to be influenced by the present social issues, the present political and communal issues that are happening in their environment at the particular time. You can't be influenced by those issues and not also be influenced by the art that is representative of those issues. I think what they're calling "nuevo flamenco," the new flamenco, is very exciting. I love it, and I think it's very important. And it's very important for the young people who are getting excited about flamenco in Spain today to be able to make their own statement about what they feel the issues are. ...
The Gypsies have always experienced marginalization. They're still experiencing it today, and they're still singing about it, dancing about it and playing about it in Spain today. They're just doing it with influences of new instrumentation; you see a lot of flamenco that's using flute and percussion and bass and saxophone and all sorts of different instrumentation which I think is beautiful. I think it's very important for that to happen. Because of that, it's really growing in popularity because it's opening itself up to more universal musical ideas, which I think is very important.
What are some of the other influences on nuevo flamenco?
Well, certainly, choreographically speaking, the staging and the choreographic possibilities have expanded tremendously. You see a lot of what we call "dance dramas" which will be part of the festival at the Popejoy performance (of) Federico. The dance-dramas are plays basically that are done stylistically through flamenco. There's no spoken word; they're dance-dramas. But they use the flamenco vocabulary to tell a story, which is a new idea in flamenco but it's very effective. ...
Of course, there's a lot of fusion bands that are happening that are very popular. This group Cañadu that are coming for the festival uses a lot of that; they have a cello, a flute, percussion. I find those things very interesting.
One of the integral parts of flamenco is that it's performed with live music ...
Absolutely. I refer to it as a responsive art form. It's all about response between the artists. One of the main aspects of flamenco, similar to jazz and blues, that I mentioned is that it's all built around improvisation. The spontaneity of it that is inherent to the art form through the interaction between the guitar, singing and the dance is magical. That's why audiences get so excited when they watch it, because they're experiencing first-hand that spur-of-the-moment spontaneous kind of response that happens with artists on stage, and that's a very exciting thing. ...
There was a period of time in the '50s and '60s when flamenco had, at least in the public eye, gotten away from a lot of that improvisation. We were seeing very rehearsed, choreographed work on stage, and the more traditional, more Gypsy work was not being produced, at least not outside of Spain very much. And now that is really starting to turn around, more of the companies that are coming out of Spain are coming back to the traditional roots, and you see a lot of improvisation and spontaneity in the performances, which is so exciting.
Information about the Instituto Flamenco and the Festival Flamenco Internacional is available on the World Wide Web at www.institutoflamenco.com/flamenco.
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