I RECENTLY WENT on an artistic scavenger hunt. Or maybe it was more of a fact-finding mission.
The goal – learn about flamenco dance in the Bay Area.
The timeline – three weeks.
The challenge – I knew very little about flamenco and had absolutely no familiarity with the flamenco scene in this particular region.
My only experience with flamenco was over twenty years ago. I was taking a summer dance intensive that featured a different elective class each week, as a supplement to the core ballet and contemporary curriculum. One week it was flamenco. I remember wearing character shoes and a long rehearsal skirt. I have a vague recollection of footwork patterns: ‘go?lpe, taco?n, taco?n, taco?n; planta, taco?n, taco?n, taco?n’. But those fading memories from long ago were really all I had to go on.
As a novice, I decided I should start with a research plan. I already had a regional focus. But flamenco dance in the Bay Area still seemed like a massive topic. Its local history, culture and lineage were likely centuries old. And flamenco in certain areas, like the South Bay, could almost warrant an entire article on its own. In three weeks, I wasn’t going to be able to cover everything. So I set some further parameters to narrow my scope of inquiry. I would explore current flamenco practice (2015) in San Francisco and the Bay Area (primarily the East Bay) through ongo- ing events, special performances and classes/ workshops. Here is what I discovered.
First stop was a visit to NorCal Flamenco (norcalflamenco.com). An online hub for flamenco in Northern California, this website provides an ideal jumping-off point – a well-curated set of calendar listings, links to individuals, organizations and dance companies, even blog posts. While exploring the site, you really start to get a sense of local flamenco as an electric jewel in the Bay Area dance’s crown. A vibrant, thriving and extensive community of choreographers, practitioners, dancers, musicians and enthusiasts.
Right away, I started to see an abundance of ongoing flamenco events. Yaelisa and her company, Caminos Flamencos, bring Cafe? Flamenco to Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda once every two months. Mision Flamenca goes on at Bissap Baobab in San Francisco the second Saturday of each month. Carolina Lugo and Carole? Acun?a’s Ballet Flamenco perform weekly at Pen?a Pachamama in SF’s North Beach. And then there is The Flamenco Room, every Sunday evening at Thirsty Bear, a popular Spanish tapas/brewpub South of the Financial District in SF. A few weeks back, I went to check out one of their two evening performances.
Thirsty Bear looked very different than any other time I had been there. A stage occupied the center of the restaurant with tables arranged right along the perimeter. With the audience seated amidst the action, there was an immediate sense of accessibility and intimacy. A feeling of being immersed in the moment as opposed to simply being an onlooker. Just after 7:30pm, two dancers and two musicians took the stage and we were off on a journey of movement and music. I couldn’t tell if there was a narrative through line, nor was I familiar with the steps, yet I was struck by both the atmosphere and the dance itself. The movement and sound had an egalitarian relationship, interacting together to paint the scene. The performers communicated deep artistry, genuine joy and intense passion. The varied choreography included fast and slow sequences, intricate port de bras and epaulement, lightning quick turns and profound dramatic emotion. What an amazing initiation to live flamenco for this newcomer.
Ongoing events like The Flamenco Room are a wonderful way to experience and access flamenco in this area. But there is even more out there! Annual festivals and special performances are also part of the regional landscape. Each year, Founder/Artistic Director Nina Mene?ndez and producer Bay Area Flamenco coordinate The Bay Area Flamenco Festival. And 2015 marks the festival’s tenth anniversary! Over the past twelve months, Mene?ndez and her team have brought an eclectic mix of classes, films and concerts to the community in recognition of this impressive milestone.
November is also a big month for exclusive flamenco performances in the Bay Area with limited engagements from both local and touring companies. Flamenco has a long been part of Cal Performances’ World Stage programming explains Associate Director Rob Bailis, “we at Cal Performances make an annual commitment to flamenco as a form because of the incredibly rich community of international flamenco artists who live among us and because the Bay Area is a place where audiences of flamenco are used to the very best.” This November, they are thrilled to continue this tradition, welcoming Compan?ia Flamenca Jose? Porcel to Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley for a two-performance run (the evening of the 13th and the afternoon of the 14th). Touring from Spain, this world-class troupe brings Flamenco Fire, a program of choreography and music that promises to wow the senses. “When one thinks of the great dancers performing today in any form, Jose? Porcel is a standout,” relays Bailis, “this season, Porcel returns to our stage and again takes his place among the pantheon of Flamenco masters that have come before him.”
The following weekend, San Francisco-based Theatre Flamenco celebrates its 49th season with the North American premiere of Andre?s Mari?n’s Ad Libitum: Or how I freed myself from my chains, a full-length production that will run for three perfor- mances (November 20-22) at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater. “As Theatre Flamenco continues to provide one of the West Coast’s leading stages for flamenco performance, it is a special honor to present Andre?s Mari?n, one of the most original artists working in flamenco today,” notes Artistic Director Carola Zertuche, “[dancer] Cristina Hall and I are proud to share the stage not only with him but also with the musicians: Jose? Valencia, Salvador Gutie?rrez and Daniel Suarez.”
Perhaps you want to be moved beyond viewership and are looking for flamenco instruction in the Bay Area. Rest assured, your options are substantial. In fact, classes and workshops were, by far, the largest category of flamenco resources that I found. From introductory to advanced, you can study with first-rate instructors all over the Bay Area, many of whom also offer outside performance opportunities. While not a complete list of Bay Area flamenco classes, the sampling below gives a good idea of what is out there in terms of local flamenco training.
At LINES Dance Center, flamenco is part of the regular weekly schedule with multiple classes taught by Virginia Iglesias, Founder of Virginia Iglesias Flamenco Academy of Dance and Artistic Director of Virginia Iglesias Flamenco Dance Company (additional classes are also taught at Alameda and Palo Alto locations). If workshops are more your scene, eight-week sessions for beginning, intermediate and advanced students are available at La Solea Dance Studio with Carola Zertuche (Artistic Director of Theatre Flamenco) or City Dance School with La Tania (Founder of La Tania Baile Flamenco School and Company). Yaelisa, Artistic Director of Caminos Flamencos, gives workshops of varying lengths in Oakland, Berkeley and the North Bay. And for a slightly longer course of study, ODC’s school is currently offering a twelve-week flamenco intensive with Master Teacher Danica Sena, as part of their 2015 Global Dance Passport. Jill Lounibos, who manages the Global Dance Passport program, shares that it “gives students the opportunity to delve deeper into the nuances of a global dance style and culminates in a bi-annual showcase from a diverse range of prominent Bay Area artists and teachers.” The student performances for this session will be held on December 12th and 13th.
At the end of any research experiment, it is customary to evaluate outcomes. Did I learn about the Bay Area’s current flamenco scene? Yes. I now know places where one can check out the region’s talented flamenco artists. I know about upcoming flamenco performances this fall. I am also familiar with some of the main players. And I know of many studios where one can study this dynamic art form. I gained knowledge of the basics; an introduction to a rich and wide ranging performance discipline. If my research experiment had been a course, I think it would have been titled, Bay Area Flamenco 101. So now that I have the pre- requisite under my belt, a more advanced immersive study might be an interesting next step.