Energy pours out of the dancers of flamenco as they pound out rhythms on their heels and, in a casual flourish of a wrist or an ankle, punctuate a longer, complex phrase. The marvelously robust art of flamenco is expressed in new choreographies presented in this weekend's 30th season of Yjastros held at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Yjastros is a repertory company firmly rooted in Albuquerque since its inception in 1999 by Artistic Director Joaquin Encinias who works closely with visiting flamenco artists from abroad to engineer creative new choreographies to premiere at the celebration. “Because of our partnerships [with UNM, for example], we have the opportunity to present flamenco in a very big way,” said the Founder and Director of the National Institute of Flamenco, Eva Encinias-Sandoval. “It's even difficult in Spain at this point in time to have a big company,” she continued. “Albuquerque can make this happen because of a dynamic that has been created here that doesn't exist elsewhere.”
Flamenco has been given the space to flourish in Albuquerque, thanks in no small part to The National Institute of Flamenco, companies like Yjastros, and through the support of the University of New Mexico. With the space and talent to progress the dance form, Albuquerque has become “a hotbed for flamenco art,” Encinias explained, and not just for New Mexican dancers and choreographers, but for artists in Spain who find greater access to performance space and support. “We really have something unique [here] in the world of flamenco,” Encinias-Sandoval said. This year, choreographers are coming to the Institute not just to collaborate with local artists, but to set the choreography that they will bring back to Europe with them, a testament to the vitality that has been created in the local flamenco scene. Albuquerque provides the space and resources for artists to develop new work, which is innovative and rare, Director of Development Marisa Magallanez added.
In addition to the sheer volume of new works that will be shared over the course of the three day affair, a wide breadth of styles will be enacted. “Flamenco has never existed in a vacuum,” Encinias explained, “it's just as much about its surroundings as what it, itself, is … With these pieces you're going to see the gamut of flamenco and related dance forms.” The pieces include dances developed by a host of visiting artists from Spain—Gala Vivancos, Javier LaTorre, Valeriano Paños, Alfonso Losa and Olga Pericet. The content of the dances differs wildly, but several have drawn inspiration from the culture and landscapes of New Mexico, contributing to the striking and fluid continued conversation between two artistic hubs, all articulated in the language of dance.
Yjastros seeks to expand the dialogue by making this performance and flamenco culture in Albuquerque more available to the broader community. “Accessibility is something we take seriously,” Encinias asserted. As such, Yjastros encourages participation through discounted tickets for students and the like, and events like a picnic held the day before the event, where dancers, choreographers and appreciators can share thoughts, knowledge and food. “[We asked ourselves] what can we do to help people experience this in a more special way?” Encinias expounded. “It's an incredible thing—the athleticism, the artistry, the expression. We're trying to make the experience of this more accessible and more fun.” And as the audience for Yjastros and the arts in general in our city expands, “you can change a culture through that process [because] your values change,” resulting in a broader appreciation of what exists in Albuquerque. In terms of flamenco, that's something wholly unique and important.
Encinias continued, “The idea of choreography, the idea of dancers in a space moving together, the costumes, the lighting—these are all beautiful things … [and] we are better than we've ever been.” Careful attention has been devoted to every element of the show, from costumes to production, contributing to a worthwhile anniversary season. Still, “it exists in that weekend and then it's gone,” Magallanez mused. “We videotape it, we take pictures, but it only exists in that moment when we come together to celebrate the process. It's not hanging in a museum for you to look at any time. It's such a special thing to be there in that moment. After [this] weekend, it will move.” And change and evolve because as Encinias-Sandoval added, the next time these pieces are danced, “as an organization, as an art form, as people, we'll be in a different place. So, it should look different.”
The title, Yjastros, is a derivation of the Spanish word hijastros, meaning stepchildren. “It's about us not being a child of Spain, but not being a child of America either,” Encinias explained. Instead, Yjastros is something all its own, and it's evolving the foot pounding classic dance of flamenco beyond watchable routines into true, choreographic works of art.