A janitor spends his life working in an art museum. Over decades of quietly mopping the halls, he’s developed relationships with the people and places that adorn the canvases of his wide, rambling office. Through them, he sees the characters and memories that shaped his life. As he visits with the images, he watches them jump out of their frames and begin to dance.
This is the narrative behind Yjastros: The American Flamenco Repertory Company’s newest production, El Museo (The Museum). Artistic Director Joaquin Encinias says the concept for the show has been with him for years. “I’ve always liked that idea, of a dance repertory being like a museum,” he says. “A museum of living art that we keep alive.” When Encinias decided it was finally time to realize his vision, he thought of one dancer. Teo Morca is a world-renowned flamenco artist who’s wanted to work with Yjastros for awhile, says Encinias. “He’s been in all the biggest theaters across the country,” including Carnegie Hall.
The two go way back—Morca being friends with Encinias’ mother. Because Encinias is so familiar with him and his career, he decided to write the narrative for El Museo as a reflective piece for Morca. “It’s not a literal slant on his career,” Encinias adds. “I wanted to, more, embrace his overarching essence.” Therefore, the show doesn’t deal with specific events in Morca’s life; instead, it focuses on the feelings that emerge from looking back at one’s career.
Morca is 77 and is no longer a full-time dancer. “But he’s in incredible condition,” Encinias says. “He’s on the stage for virtually the whole hour and 15 minutes of the show.” Encinias is excited to finally be able to feature Morca in one of the company’s performances—most of all, he says, because it will expose the repertory’s 20 dancers to his “abilities and his ferocity.”
El Museo is comprised of about 10 pieces, only one of which is from the company’s archive. The rest have been choreographed in the last three months. The pieces are all grounded in classical Spanish flamenco but incorporate elements of modern, escuela bolera and Gitano styles.
The University of New Mexico’s 50-piece symphony orchestra is providing the show’s musical backbone. With conductor Jorge Pérez-Gómez taking the lead, the orchestra will play Vivaldi, Manuel de Falla and Henry Charles Litolff compositions in addition to traditional flamenco pieces. This is the first time Yjastros has worked with the orchestra, and Encinias hopes it’s the beginning of an ongoing relationship. “They have a rich archive of dance music,” he says. “It’s an incredible opportunity for Albuquerque to have them tap in.”
Encinias says the message of the production is, above all, one of optimism. “We’re taking you through his memories,” he says, which involve notes of sadness and death, but ultimately the story is about a life remembered. “It’s a little more sweet than bitter.”