Beauty, Terror and the Mysteries of Flamenco
By Joshua Lee
Flamenco is life or death, and the best artists give the impression that they could drop lifeless at the end of a performance with no regrets. It calls to those who are willing to reach deep inside, push through the layers and yank out the squirming bloody core of what it is to be human.
There's also music. And dancing.
Albuquerque is quickly becoming the flamenco capital of the US, and every June the National Institute of Flamenco hosts the Festival Flamenco Internacional—the largest of its kind in the country, with an entire week's worth of performances from some of the biggest names in the genre.
Much of the credit for our city's status as a talent magnet can be given to the National Institute of Flamenco's dance program at UNM.
“In a university you can expose large numbers of people to an art form,” says Professor Eva Encinias-Sandoval, founder of NIF. “There are hundreds of people going in and out of those classes every year. There are people that I taught 30 years ago that now bring their children and grandchildren to study.”
The constant refreshment of new students supplies the city with an impressive community of enthusiasts for a style of dance that may have only small audiences in other parts of the country. The long-standing local tradition has also produced the type of connoisseur that can appreciate flamenco’s more esoteric forms—making the city a venue for rare expressions of the art form (on this side of the Atlantic, anyway).
Take for example the cante flamenco concerts playing Tuesday through Thursday at the festival. “It's taken a while for us to develop enough of an audience for cante here,” Encinias-Sandoval says. “In the last few years, we've only done one cante concert. But I feel that we've gotten to a place now where our audience is hungry for more of it.”
Cante is the vocal part of the song—considered to be flamenco's heart. It is the purest form of the art, appearing hundreds of years before the guitar was eventually introduced. It can be dark, moody and at times almost uncomfortably intimate. A great singer will make it feel like there's only the two of you—a terrifying prospect when they're baring their anguish and you've been transformed into an empty receiver.
“It's something you have to build a taste for. It's not background music. It pulls you into the experience. And it's somewhat ... exhausting. Cuesta. It costs you to be there.”
Flamenco is not for those with spines of jelly. Being an observer won't protect you. Unlike art that can be put under glass and examined from a safe distance, cante will grab you by the spirit and throttle you into acquiescence. But fear not, dear reader. NIF's founder doesn't expect the uninitiated to go jumping into the deep end. She's made it her goal to introduce flamenco to anyone who hasn't experienced it.
Festival Flamenco 28 kicks off Sunday, June 7, with New Mexico True Fiesta de Apertura, a free show at the Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW), showcasing a wide range of flamenco styles from artists and schools across the country, as well as Mexico and Costa Rica. Following the showcase will be a concert by modern flamenco star Montse Cortés.
Another good place for the beginner to start is Fiesta Flamenca, happening Friday and Saturday, June 12 and 13, also at the NHCC. Here, all of the headlining artists from the festival will perform in a single night, exhibiting their various takes on flamenco.
For anyone ready to take the full plunge, discounted packages and passes are available alongside tickets to individual shows.
No matter what level of flamenco aficionado you are, don't waste time hemming and hawing. There's a mystical connection that happens somewhere in the distance between performer and audience, but it must be experienced to be understood.
Festival Flamenco Internacional de Albuquerque
Sunday to Saturday, June 7 to 13
Ticket prices vary
NEWSLETTERS Great Alibi stories, events and deals delivered to your inbox each week. No fooling!
Tribute to Mariah Carey at Sidewinders
Dance and see performances from Lana Michele, Kitana, Pierce T. Stratton, Chanel Ticey, Oso Naughty and more inspired by the Queen of Christmas.
Revolution at Teatro Paraguas
Solo Exhibit at Galeria ArribaMore Recommended Events ››