A dancer’s stage presence can be powerful enough to absorb the audience to a point where they forget the notion of time and place. La Tania, founder and Artistic Director of La Tania Baile Flamenco, makes her presence felt when immersed in this Spanish dance. There comes a moment in her performance when she strikes a pose on stage and holds the audience breathless as she gracefully releases her upper body. In that split second you come to realize that she is in her element.
For La Tania, flamenco is not just a hobby. It is her full time work, her absolute passion and a means to expressing her innermost feelings that cannot be conveyed through words. When she is completely engrossed in the dance she is able to tap into her emotions at the cellular level. “Our bodies are the carriers of the deepest emotions, which are the hardest to express in our daily life. Flamenco enables me to express them and feel like I am being heard.”
After an evening of flamenco classes at City Ballet School in San Francisco, La Tania and I were engaged in a full night of conversation as she shared stories from her past and present, slowly painting a portrait of her life. Raised amongst the gypsy flamenco culture in southern Spain, she was exposed to this art form at a very early age. Aside from family and community gatherings, she acquired a great deal of knowledge from observing her mother Julia, who became a professional flamenco dancer herself. Her grandmother Judith Deim, who was an important matriarchal figure throughout La Tania’s life, as well as an accomplished painter, encouraged her children and grandchildren to practice self-expression through the arts. Sooner than later, dance became her vocation. Flamenco became her way of life.
The extensive amount of traveling La Tania did during her formative years until today, both with her family and as a professional flamenco dancer, can hardly be summarized in a paragraph. From Europe, to Africa, to Asia and the Americas, she has been exposed to a variety of cultures and danced on numerous stages and tablaos (flamenco performance cafés/bars). In Spain alone, she has lived in Moron de la Frontera, Sevilla, Granada, Mallorca, and Madrid, making a name for herself wherever she performed. By 1993 she moved to Northern California and began La Tania Flamenco Music and Dance, which toured throughout the States and abroad, inviting on stage international flamenco artists. After a two-year sabbatical in Spain, she returned to San Francisco in 2006 and decided to establish herself as a full-time teacher and dancer, launching La Tania Baile Flamenco. “I found the Bay Area to be a place I could finally settle down in. I found a lot of people I could relate to and a lot of diversity.”
Executing a Musical Score with Your Feet
“I dance to escape the reasoning mind, the intellectual self. I create movement that feels organic, instinctual, musical, and visceral.” Dance evokes in La Tania a sense of freedom and a whole range of human feelings that can be expressed at any moment. It’s as if an accumulation of her life comes forth each time she performs. “To me dance is an image that appears and disappears. It only exists as a piece of art in a split second. You do it and then it’s gone.”
While respecting the pure art form of flamenco and the structure of the palo (style of song), La Tania explores both the traditional and modern format during her creative process. There are several palos under the umbrella of flamenco, such as Alegrias, Soleares, Tangos, Siguiriyas, and Bulerias, to name a few. “I choreograph by intuition and hardly ever sketch out what is in my head. I do not have a structure or theory. I might be daydreaming and all of a sudden I visualize a certain movement that I’d like to add to one of my choreographies.” Her choreographies and presentations have received many awards, including the Irvine Fellowship in Dance, the Guggenheim Fellowship, two Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, as well as Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.
One of the beauties of flamenco is the constant battle between the lower body, with its elaborate zapateado (footwork) and the upper body, with its softer brazeo (arm movements). Exhibiting this control between the graceful and the fierce is a skill that La Tania has mastered and that she aims to teach her students. As stated by LA Times writer David Gere, “La Tania’s combination of restraint and release are capable of unleashing the extraordinary.” In order for her students to understand how the dance fits into the structure of the cante (song) and the guitarra (guitar) she likes to include the musicians in her classes. They are crucial in the learning process. For La Tania the cante is like poetry in movement, weaving together non-linear verses that incorporate such themes as hardship and lost loves. She keeps in mind the ups and downs in the music as she choreographs movements. “It’s about learning to execute a musical score with your feet and interpreting the nuances of the singing.”
Despertar es un Color
Finding the balance between teaching and performing, doing less of the administrative and focusing more on the creative aspect of dance are goals she looks forward to as she gazes into the horizon. Unlike her first company which focused on touring and working with international artists, her current company, La Tania Baile Flamenco, focuses on her involvement with her dance school and the local community of students and artists. Aside from offering classes in San Francisco and Oakland, she is committed to providing professional and emerging dancers with an array of performance opportunities, from yearly student showcases, to monthly tablaos, to new and innovative productions. This spring, she will grace us with her stage presence once again as she presents her latest work of art, Despertar es un Color (Awakening is a Color).
The production Despertar es un Color will take the audience on a 90-minute journey of beautifully staged flamenco performances. La Tania, along with five accomplished company dancers, will perform a combination of ensemble and solo pieces based on traditional flamenco, with some modern elements. They will be joined on stage by acclaimed guest singers Kina Mendez and Felix de Lola, guitarist Roberto Aguilar and violinist Tregar Otton. In a description of her new work she writes, “Despertar es un Color tells the story of how a shared passion can color the landscape anew and organically form communities that become home to our hearts and spirit. It is also the story of the awakening of a new phase of life. It represents the multi-faceted expression of ourselves as individuals and the connections we develop with the world around us. As we do this, seeds are planted, roots are spread…we awaken, grow, create, inspire, and we are able to see the colors.”
La Tania Baile Flamenco will present the world premiere of Despertar es un Color on Sunday, April 22, 7pm at the Cowell Theater in Fort Mason Center, San Francisco.
Micaela Nerguizian is the Production Associate for World Arts West, presenters of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival.