Juncal Street, La Pena Cultural Center, June 26

20 Jul

My exposure to flamenco in San Francisco came when there was a Cansino instructing in a Geary Street studio not far from what is now American Conservatory Theater.  It also was a time when Vadja del Oro was continuing to dance after she and Guillermo del Oro parted marital ways.  While there was doubtless other Spanish exponents, del Oro had the distinction of having studied with Otero in addition to Enrico Cechetti, and knowing all the coplas of the traditional Sevillanas.  From various sources I heard there was someone by the name of Jose Ramon, but I am personally ignorant regarding this exponent.

The Geary Street theatres saw performances by Carmen Amaya, Teresa and Luisillo, Jose Greco, Pilar Lopez, Jimenez and Vargas.  Argentinita, and, at one point, an aging Escudero and his partner appeared on the S.F. Opera stage.  That may well have been the occasion when Roberto Iglesias and his company appeared at the Van Ness location; Iglesias proudly acknowledged having danced with San Francisco Ballet. In the early ‘Sixties the Old Spaghetti Factory flamenco sessions were in session. Spanish dancing could be seen at the outskirts of Chinatown at the Sinaloa, a Mexican-flavored nightclub operated by Luz Garcia, her life history unfortunately remains shadowy.   Maclovia, who had danced under Adolph Bolm in early San Francisco Ballet days, appeared there and later with Antonio, touring with a different troupe from his days as one half of the Rosario and Antonio billing.

While she resided in San Francisco, Rosa Montoya reigned supreme in San Francisco’s flamenco world, starting first with Ciro in a nightclub on Broadway.  She performed and taught a number of exponents active today, with perhaps the most noted being Melissa Cruz.  Unlike Theatre Flamenco’s continued ensemble existence, when Rosa retired to Spain following the loss of her husband and only son, gypsy-originated flamenco and larger-than-ensemble artists vanished.  Concurrently with Rosa, Cruz Luna had also danced along that strip once called the Barbary Coast, a tall, elegant individual.

I’m hazy on the sequence, but soon Yaelisa, her  mother  an Old Spaghetti Factory stalwart of flamenco  ensemble performances, emerged with her ensemble, and several promising dancers began to appear in her ensemble, and she appeared monthly at ODC’s Theatre before it was remodeled.

Into her group came Fanny Ara;  with the presence of La Tania, and later Carola Zertuche, the level of flamenco artistry has risen appreciably.  I have been told  the San Francisco area is one of genuine homes away from homes for flamenco. With this roster of artists and their ability to acquire guesting dancers and musicians, San Francisco enjoys not only frequent performances, but real confidence in the caliber of what we are invited to watch.

I missed Fanny Ara’s early spring concert, but seeing what she arranged June 26 at La Pena Cultural Center more than made up for that absence. She assembled three musicians in addition to Manuel Gutierrez, the dancer seen locally under several auspices.  Jason McGuire, “El  Rubio”, was responsible for the principal guitar, backed by Tommy Dades, who plays an electrified guitar.  Instead of the increasing use of the cajon, Joey Heredia brought his percussion skills while Jose Cortes provided the singing.

La Pena is a stark setting for any performance, an elevated platform at the end of a room of seats without rake or curtain.  When artists can carry an audience’s intensive response as these six were able in this setting, it’s really something.  No wonder that Juncal is roughly translated as “insider.”

As  Ara and Gutierrez started out with Tangos, Heredia emerged from the right stage exit, walked in front of the stage where he struck  his sticks on the edge of the platform close to the dancers’ feet.  This  set a tone, Gutierrez and Ara dancing side by side, Ara in black, Gutierrez, suited, like a slightly fatigued paper pusher in San Francisco’s financial district. Throughout the program, little of the traditional costumes were even hinted at – the heavily braided jacket and tight trousers of the male, combs, spit curls and artificial flowers for the woman’s hair,  a myriad of ruffles on the sleeves and neckline or the swirling yardage in the skirt.

Jose Cortes, a tall, handsome man, rendered a Fandango with extraordinary fervor, the melismatic preliminary as prolonged and varied as one hears from a traditional Indian singer .  Cortes’ undulations, produced with the aid of one hand weaving the rise and fall of sound, pulled the extended  phrase from deep in his solar plexus, his  intensity verging on a blood vessel rupture.

When Gutierrez returned for the Zapateado, head covered by a school boy cap, knee-length socks and short trousers with school boy jacket and tie, he looked like a school boy – a nod to his French birth. His expression, totally deadpan, drilled itself into the audience, as his feet wove the traditional sequences.  My friend remarked, “He possesses an ego the size of Berkeley.”

Ara’s costumes included diaphanous black over minimal bra with a straight street skirt, later a black  over blouse with rose-applique above a floor length skirt of minimalist ruffles.  She is adept in cork- curled turns, both back and forward;  she continues to reach sideways with a strong thrust of the arm, softened by manipulation of palms and fingers, which accompany equal  side stretches of the torso and the legs. The latter almost verges on the grotesque but is redeemed by the arms, body twist and her remarkable musical phrasing.  These juxtapositions seemed to work best in the solo Romance, but  I hope it doesn’t become a movement cliche.   Ara’s handsome features appeared more chiseled,  perhaps heightened with the presence of Guiterrez; certainly her body responded in a telling response to Heredia’s percussive instruments.

Gutierrez danced in the mussy business suit style with the usual forward intent gaze and deliberation; in due course off  came the jacket flung at a strategic juncture.  There’s no denying
his skill or focus.

Two thoughts linger as I write this.  Spanish dance no longer is totally defined by its costume, particularly with the men.  Ara, Gutierrez and Cortes all born in France; the latter two claim gypsy heritage.  Was the culture beyond the immediate family and gypsy circle an influence?  The incisiveness somehow makes me wonder.  Like ballet’s roots, Spanish dance and flamenco is
obviously an international language.

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2 Responses to “Juncal Street, La Pena Cultural Center, June 26”

  1. Odette's Ordeal July 22, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

    Thank you for your knowledgable and descriptive observations about this performance, as well as its importance in San Francisco’s dance community. Flamenco seems alive and well in SF, based on what you just saw.
    Teri McCollum

  2. Dave Woods December 21, 2015 at 6:57 pm #

    I am Martita Santiago. I live in Eugene ,Oregon and have a Spanish Classical and Flamenco Arts Studio there. I think I may know or have crossed paths with Roberto Iglesias. I also studied with Guillermo DelOro and the Casinos beginning at 13 years of age until I was about 18 (1957-1962). I actually specialize in the Sevillanes because of DelOro. I used to dance at The Spaghetti Factory and the Casa Madrid. I was in a show with Cruz Luna where I did two solo’s. I Perfomed many times for the USO at Ledderman Hospital I danced for County and State fairs and Events and Benefits. I was very young then and I forget a lot of details but these were some of the most exciting years of my life. I got married not long after that and had to shelve my dreams for about 10 years. I started performing and teaching at a local level in 1972 in Humboldt, California. I’ve been teaching and performing in Oregon for the last 25 years and at the age of 72 I’m still going strong. I was so happy to read this article. It brought back fond memories.

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