Fancy Footwork

Flamenco Festival Miami brings Spain’s most adored ambassador to the Arsht Center.

By Michelle F. Solomon

“Sometimes you have to go away from your own culture to realize the value of your culture,” says Miguel Marin, the producer of Flamenco Festival, who will bring his festival to the Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center in March.

Marin discovered flamenco, he says, 20 years ago when he moved to New York. “I had to leave Spain to discover the richness of flamenco,” he says.

CulturePerformance-Flamenco-2The Flamenco Festival will visit the Arsht Center for its eighth season. “From the very first year, we knew that the Flamenco Festival would be a signature series for the Arsht. It was a hit right out of the box,” says Scott Shiller, executive vice president, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. “One of the things that I love about the festival is that it brings such an incredible mix of young, old, Spanish speakers, English speakers. In our lobby before the shows, there’s such energy around it.”

Marin believes that the electricity comes from flamenco itself. “Flamenco is a very direct art form, where the intensity and depth of the emotion is able to touch the hearts of people, regardless of their cultural backgrounds,” he says.

CulturePerformance-Flamenco-3Flamenco was born from the melting pot of different cultures, and the expressive dance is one of Spain’s national treasures. The music and dance of southern Spain’s Andalucía, flamenco has deep historical roots in east Indian, Greek, Roman, Persian, and Jewish cultures.

In her book, Flamenco: All You Wanted to Know, Emma Martinez attempts to solve the debate over who is responsible for the creation of flamenco. “Perhaps the closest we can get to defining who is fundamentally responsible for flamenco music and dance, as we know it today, is to say that it was invented in Andalucía by Andalucíans. Together, both Andalucía Gypsies and non-Gypsies created a distinct style of song and dance.”
While flamenco is thought of mostly as dance, flamenco actually exists in three forms: Cante, the song, Baile, the dance, and Guitarra, guitar playing.

For Marin, the connection between the dance and the music is what makes flamenco so magical. “The music makes the dancer go inside himself or herself and to have that special connection with your soul — that divine part — and then to bring that alive to an audience.”

CulturePerformance-Flamenco-4
He explains that the structure of flamenco is very improvisational. “This brings the ‘duende’ of the magic to the stage and the audience can feel it. You do not need to understand it; it is not a dance or music for the mind; it is an art form that you feel from your heart. That is what ‘duende’ is — what everyone is looking for in flamenco — that one magic moment where everything just connects.”

Magical, too, is the star of this year’s Flamenco Festival — Sara Baras. Shiller recalls a visit to Spain he took this past summer. Everywhere he looked — billboards, photographs — everyone was talking about Baras and her new tribute to the great proponents of flamenco, “Voces.”

“I’ve titled the work ‘Voces’ to thank, with humility, all of the voices that have influenced my generation and that have had an influence directly on myself. And to thank all of these artists — that because of them, we are now here,” says Baras.

“Voces, Suite Flamenca” is a large-scale production that features a company of dancers, including guest artist José Serrano and a group of seven vocalists and musicians. Her tribute is to flamenco’s greatest artists, including Paco de Lucia, Antonio Gades, Enrique Morente, Moraito, and Carmen Amaya.

“With Paco, I have so many good memories. When he passed away, we were doing ‘La Pepa’ in London. It was a hard time for me. I was mad at the world. The soundtrack of my life is Paco de Lucia.”

Baras says that the artists are so deep within her soul that her performances “come from my heart. I am going to give on stage what I am, and it is in honor of these artists.”

The flamenco dancer has become internationally famous for her brilliant footwork and captivating stage presence over a career that has spanned more than 20 years. As an ambassador of Spanish culture to the world, she was asked to lend her image for the creation of Spain Barbie®, was honored by the Spanish government with a commemorative postage stamp, and has been the face of major international brands such as Cartier and Freixenet.

“She is one of the best to combine a more modern aesthetic with the traditional. When you see her live, you see one of the most talented dancers with footwork — she has updated the art form to a modern aesthetic. It is exciting to see that even in its most contemporary form, flamenco can remain deeply rooted,” says Marin.

To celebrate Baras and Spain, Shiller says there are cultural exchanges planned off stage as well as on stage. Arsht’s in-house restaurants, Brava and Books and Books, are planning special menus — “paella in the lobby and sangria,” he says.

Flamenco in Miami has become bigger than just a festival weekend, and Shiller merely hints at what’s to come. For the Arsht’s tenth anniversary season in 2016, flamenco and the “creation of a project” are mentioned in the same sentence as he talks about the core of flamenco being close to the performing arts center’s own mission of being “vibrant, innovative and nurturing.” While he wouldn’t talk specifics, Shiller promises that “the project is something that will launch in Miami and will be seen all over the world.”
Get ready for some real fancy footwork.

Flamenco Festival Miami 2015 is at the Arsht Center March 12 to 14 in the John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall. Info at www.arshtcenter.org.

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