Yjastros: The American Flamenco Repertory Company has been performing flamenco for nearly two decades. Only four audience members attended their very first show at the El Museo Cultural Center in Santa Fe. Barely making ticket sales and struggling to pay dancers for years, the company worked toward a goal that reached beyond turning a profit. They continued dancing with a high regard for craftsmanship and beauty, providing quality and substantive entertainment.
"I hope we're doing something that pushes against consumer-driven ideology," Joaquin Encinias, Yjastros’ artistic director, said, noting that live performance is not about what you can buy, but a type of engagement that television doesn’t provide. Encinias recently put the finishing touches on dances created by visiting choreographers from Spain for Yjastros' 31st season. The program includes “Çiertas Danças,” “La Serrana,” and “Men’s Alegrías Quintet.” The company learned each piece within the four to five weeks the individual choreographer was in residence. Each dance involved 23 2-hour long rehearsals.
“We work every day to preserve choreography artists teach us in a limited amount of time,” company dancer Nevarez Encinias said. The amount of time Yjastros spent internalizing choreography is worth much more than the $15 an Yjastros 31 ticket starts at.
Rafael Estevez and Valeriano Paños, both based in Madrid, Spain, choreographed and set “Çiertas Danças” with a full cast of 12 dancers to a recording of Spanish classical music. Lasting 30 minutes and divided into 3 parts, the piece is epic and differs in structure from choreographies performed by Yjastros in the past. Dancers wear steampunk-inspired costumes while entertaining the royal court of an imaginary era with virtuosic jumps, turns and playful partner dancing. Mandolin plucking and the high-pitched sound of the bow drawn across the violin is complemented by heels vibrating the ground.
“When they [Estevez and Paños] choreograph alongside each other they are interested in the ways in which flamenco and Spanish classical are not mutually exclusive dance forms,” Nevarez said, noting that the innovative way in which the piece creates a surreal environment by referencing a historical time period, while using contemporary choreographic choices.
In “La Serrana” dancers begin in a prolonged moment of stoicism, later moving in inventive variations of classical positions. Each pose reflects strength as jarring musical and choreographic repetition emulates the toil of rural labor. Choreographer Lucia "La Piñona" Alvarez, based in Seville, Spain, is influenced by the harsh conditions of farm life in Jimena de La Frontera, the historic town in Cádiz, Spain, where she was born. Alvarez choreographed “La Serrana” in collaboration with vocalist Eva Ruiz and guitarist Calvin Hazen. Ruiz and Hazen created an original composition with earthy and heavy tones for a more serious song form. Hazen accompanies the dancers along with the dynamic voice of Vicente Griego.
“Men’s Alegrías Quintet,” choreographed by Iván Vargas, begins stark and theatrical with dancers seated in chairs. The chair is a signature in Vargas' interpretation of the alegrías, a flamenco song form with a particular beat. Vargas is inspired by family member and flamenco icon Mario Maya whom he saw using the chair as a prop while setting choreography for a group of men at the Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía in Spain. Vargas chose to choreograph an alegrías, because he studied the form with his uncles, Manolete and Juan Andres Maya, two icons in flamenco history. Vargas, born in a cave in Granada, Spain, grew up dancing with flamenco legends his entire life, and is considered an icon himself. Vargas said he loves working with Yjastros, the official representation of flamenco in the United States.
Yjastros 31 takes place at 8pm Nov. 11 and Nov. 12 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW). Tickets are available at the door and online at nhccnm.org for $15-50.