To watch Adrián Santana dance is a study in moods—in videos of workshops he throws a bata de cola around his hips with the verve of a hula hooper. At other times, as in a performance of his original piece Simbiosis, an enigmatic seriousness settles from his brow to the pointed toe of his dancing shoes as he stomps the stage beneath him. With spontaneous athleticism and innate drama, Santana has been a leader of modern flamenco since early on in his career, first taking the stage with his famed uncle, Pepito Vargas of Málaga. “The first time I climbed on stage,” Santana described, “I was 6 or 7 years old. I remember that moment as one of the most special moments of my life, and from that day I knew that flamenco and dance would form part of my life.”
And they have—Santana has traveled the world studying, teaching and performing. He left his home in Málaga, Spain to dance in famous companies in Madrid, Sevilla, London, New York, even at the ancient ruins of the Acropolis in Greece. These international passages have included many visits to Albuquerque, where he has both performed and taught, hosted by the National Institute of Flamenco. This year, the Institute welcomes Santana back as one of the headlining performers of the 30th Annual Festival Flamenco Internacional de Alburquerque—which will also include performances by 58 visiting artists, several workshops, 5 intimate tablao performances and a free public show. “For me,” Santana beamed at the prospect of his return to Albuquerque, “the Festival Flamenco in Albuquerque is the best flamenco festival in the world. It is a wonderful feeling to meet with all of my colleagues and students under a common purpose and desire: To continue learning about and developing our art.”
At the festival this year, Santana will perform Simbiosis on June 12, the third day of the festival. The series of dances is an original work that he debuted in Granada at the Corral de Carbón. Traveling with him for the performance are two guitarists—Fransisco Vinuesa and Víctor Márquez—as well as two singers—David El Galli and Emilio Florido. Javier Teruel plays percussion, and joining Santana in the dance is the virtuosa Agueda Saavedra. The dance, set to undulating drums and soulful guitar, makes good use of small movements in addition to well-timed grand ones. There are stretches of subtlety—both musically and in the dance—during which the drama of the sequence lies in wait, achieving greater effect when it does crescendo. It is a series that testifies to Santana's intuitive and sophisticated understanding of flamenco. Santana and Saavedra know how to perform—and do so masterfully—but as a choreographer, Santana knows what will move the audience. “On a theatrical level, it is a very simple show that showcases both the cante and the dance,” Santana said, going on to explain that these dances were inspired by flamenco greats like Carmen Amaya and Antonio El Bailarín. “I wanted to draw inspiration from them to revive the essence of a symbiosis between dancers.” Elicited through the call and response with the musicians, and a delicate give and take between the dancers, Simbiosis proves apt at doing just that—and does so with a certain intensity that flamenco dancers seem to possess in droves.
When I asked Santana about his perennial sources of inspiration, he pointed to the greats, yes, but mused as well on the nature of inspiration: “It is not easy, inspiration, [it] can come to you … any time, anywhere—especially when you least expect it.” Santana described it as something elusive, inscrutable, and as such, you must be ready when it surfaces. “It can arrive through a conversation and a glass of wine with someone interesting; it may be watching a sunset, or maybe even watching a video. And when it does come, it is good to have your [flamenco] boots close to take advantage of it and express through dance what the body asks of you at that moment.”
Where that flash point of inspiration may reach its most expressive pitch is at the tablao at Hotel Albuquerque. Informal, improvisation-based dances will happen late nights throughout the festival at the intimate, upscale space that the National Institute of Flamenco has carved into Old Town. Red wine and sangria are poured by candlelight while dancers take the small stage to move as they are inspired in the moment—an essential expression festival attendees would be remiss to sit out on. Santana himself will share the stage of the tablao with other guest artists on Thursday, June 15.
It is in small spaces like this, as well as during the intensive processes of choreographing a dance and hammering away at the steps until a performance that Santana finds room for improvisation and discovery—and those are the very things that have the power to innovate and evolve this storied form of dance. “For me,” Santana said, “everything that is done with knowledge, respect and with pleasure has room in this art form. The good thing about flamenco is that it is continuously changing while never forgetting its roots.” Visitors to the Festival Flamenco Internacional de Alburquerque have the chance to experience flamenco in its many varied and innovative expressions—all performed with knowledge and respect, with palpable pleasure in every gesture.
Tickets, a complete schedule and more information on the 30th Festival Flamenco Internacional de Alburquerque are available at ffi30.org.