For those who may be too intimidated to come see the Spanish dance troupe Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana at their performance at the Buckman Arts Center Saturday — perhaps they think it will be stuffy or, conversely, too exotic — company founder Carlota Santana has a simple response: Don’t be afraid.
“A lot of people don’t seem to understand the liveliness of flamenco. I think some people might be shocked by it,” says Santana from Durham, N.C. “It’s a little bit like opera. You have to really get used to opera before you get where you really like it. But I think if people just relax and let themselves get into flamenco and just listen to the music and hook up with the emotions that the dancers are expressing, that is the best thing for the audience to do. Just watch them express themselves. Then, I think, the audience kind of gets carried away with it.”
Flamenco is a type of folk music and dance from the Andalusia region of southern Spain. Noted for its dramatic melodies and driving rhythms, the music is born out of the area’s confluence of cultures — mostly Spanish and Romani but with the influence of India, Arabia and even Judaism. Flamenco goes back at least as far as the 18th century and remains a vibrant and vital part of Spanish culture today.
There are dozens of flamenco companies in Spain, and every year aspiring flamenco dancers from around the world travel there to absorb the soul of the music, a necessary step for anyone wanting to master it, according to Santana.
“You really have to go back to the fountain and learn it there,” she says. “I think there will always be a time when you have to go back. It’s like if you’re studying Shakespeare, you need to go to England.”
Despite a brief popularity craze in the mid-20th century, flamenco was little seen in the United States before Santana and Roberto Lorca founded Flamenco Vivo in New York in 1983.
“There was another company, María Benítez Teatro Flamenco, and scattered throughout the states there were companies here and there,” says Santana. “When we started we had a lot of success initially because people hadn’t seen it around in awhile.”
Flamenco Vivo has continued its mission of promoting the art form here even after Lorca’s death in 1987. Every year it performs lengthy residencies at New York City’s The Joyce Theater and in Durham, where city officials lured the company to establish a second home in 1996 as part of its efforts to reach out to its growing Hispanic population.
The company, which has also performed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, supplements those engagements with tours and educational programs.
This year the organization marked its 30th anniversary with an exhibit at the Lincoln Center’s Astor Gallery, “100 Years of Flamenco in NYC.”
(As part of its Memphis appearance, Flamenco Vivo is also hosting a free master dance class at 1 p.m. Saturday on the Buckman stage. To register, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Santana promises Saturday’s concert, fittingly titled “The Soul of Flamenco,” will be a good introduction to anyone interested in the art. The touring company is made up of two men and three women (two of the latter of whom, in part of a trend that pleases Santana, actually hail from the U.S.) along with two guitar players and a cante, or singer.
“True flamenco is basically the dancer, the singer, and the guitarist and nothing else,” says Santana. “And you really can’t have any one without the others.”
The program will feature a number of both light and serious flamenco numbers, ranging from the Bata de Cola, where women flip their long-trained dresses around, to the heavy and serious Siguiriya Y Martinete before finally wrapping up, in the traditional manner, with the Bulería, a dance that provides perhaps the greatest amount of improvisational freedom with performers frequently stopping dramatically to cheers of “olé.”
“I always like to tell audiences flamenco is not like a classical music concert,” says Santana. “In a classical music concert you have to sit there in-between the first and second movements, and you’re not allowed to applaud. Flamenco is totally different. If you like it, you can applaud anytime you want.”
Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana
8 p.m. Saturday
The Buckman Performing Arts Center, 60 Perkins Ext.
Tickets: $28; available by phone at 901-537-1483 and online at buckmanartscenter.com.