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The passion of flamenco dance is both undeniable and indescribable.
It can be found in the eye of the dancer, or the stomp of a heel. It can be seen in the sharp twirl of a long, ruffled train dress or the click of castanets. It can carry you to another place and time and make you open your eyes in wonder. It can do all those things, and yet, after watching it for the first time, many people are left speechless and say: “That’s not what I expected.”
And because of comments like that, “there’s a lot of education that needs to be done and a heightening of awareness,” Ramirez said.
That just so happens to be the mission of EntreFlamenco: to promote, share and educate the public about the history and evolution of flamenco culture through music and dance performance.
There could hardly be better ambassadors of the dance. Granjero was born in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.
Through Ramirez as his interpreter, he said he breathed flamenco from the time he was born, and knew he wanted to be a dancer at the age of 6. He trained in classical Spanish dance, classical ballet and flamenco and at 10 years old, performed for the royal family of Spain as part of the children’s Albarizuela Ballet.
Early in his career, he performed for Queen Elizabeth II of England, the king of Morocco, and heads of state of Poland, Japan, Indonesia, among other countries. In 1995, Granjero became a soloist and choreographer with the world renown Maria Benitez Teatro Flamenco in Santa Fe, N.M.
In his 12 years with the company, he performed in such cities as New York, Los Angeles and Montreal. It was during one of these travels in 1996 that he met Ramirez. They both performed at PBS’ Evening at the Pops with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the nationally televised “Flamenco! The Passion of Spanish Dance.”
While Granjero hails from the birthplace of flamenco, Ramirez was born in an unlikely setting for dance inspiration – Moline, Ill.
“I know it’s a cliché to say I was born to be a dancer, but it’s true for me,” she said.
At 17, she made her professional debut at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England, and at 18, she earned a dance scholarship to the University of New Mexico.
One of her artistic successes before EntreFlamenco was founding Jornadas Flamencas, an annual flamenco festival in Valencia, Spain. Her resume boasts an impressive list of guest residencies, performances and dance companies in which she was principal female soloist.
Indeed, Moline seems a world away for the accomplished dancer.
“Flamenco is very peculiar,” Granjero admitted. “It is one of the most difficult disciplines in music and dance. Learning it is never-ending. It’s continuously evolving and that’s what maintains the spirit. It keeps it fresh and new. It’s a live, living culture that keeps moving.”
An art form since the 18th century, flamenco is not just dance. It’s also song and guitar, and each stand on their own merit. Interestingly, flamenco dance is never performed to recorded music.
With their wealth of experience, Granjero and Ramirez can be likened to flamenco royalty in San Antonio.
“We’re very happy and proud of what we’ve accomplished here in five years,” Granjero said. “But in terms of what our goals are, we feel very alone. The city of San Antonio hasn’t made a big effort in supporting arts and culture. It’s a pity that with the focus on the Alamo and cultural tourism that there hasn’t been more emphasis on the performing arts.”
When EntreFlamenco first moved to San Antonio in 2009, the company started in humble beginnings in a duplex on Hillcrest Avenue. They outgrew the space in a year. While their present location fits their needs, it’s not in an ideal area – a nondescript office park on Bandera Road.
“Ideally, we would like to be downtown,” Ramirez said.
The 2,400-square-foot space was completely gutted and renovated by Granjero and Ramirez. They built everything – from the walls and floors to the stage and classroom. During a performance, they have seating for approximately 65, which provides for an intimate gathering.
The last two shows of the 2013 season in San Antonio are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Sept. 13-14, at the dance space, 5407 Bandera Rd., Suite 107, in the West Loop II Business Park (just south of Loop 410).
The shows, titled “Tendencias,” are a tribute to the students and institutions, both private and public, that have been inspired by EntreFlamenco, and in turn, inspired them to achieve greater heights in their craft. The shows are presented in collaboration with the Spanish Danzart Society.
Ramirez explained that flamenco is not a narrative style dance. Instead, it focuses on human emotion and is built on rhythms known as palos. “Tendencias” will be made up of a series of individually choreographed sessions.
“We look for harmony visually and musically so there’s a flow, but flamenco was born from palos,” Granjero said. “What we’ve done in this production is to select a series of palos, opening with a classical number transcribed to flamenco rhythm.”
Also dancing with Granjero and Ramirez are Bianca Castaño and Leeza Peche. Featured musicians are Ricardo Anglada and Brent Del Bianco, guitarists; Francisco Javier Orozco, known as “Yiyi,” singer and percussionist; and Roberto Lorente, singer. The custom-made outfits are made by Patricia Maria Quiñones and lighting by Rene Treviño. Gilbert Betancourt is the executive producer.
“One advantage of flamenco is that expression and gestures are important, and they get better with the maturity of the dancers,” Ramirez said. “Flamenco dancers dance well into their 50s.”
That aspect appealed to Dr. Inmaculada del Rincón, a native of Madrid who has been taking classes at EntreFlamenco about three years.
“Flamenco has no age – the older the better,” she said. “There’s no jumping. You’re very connected to the earth. There’s not much music so you can concentrate on the sound, the movements. You’re completely focused on what’s going on in class.”
EntreFlamenco’s co-directors are in complete agreement when it comes to what they want their audience to take away from a performance.
“We want them to experience something pure and real,” Granjero said. “It’s something that’s hard to explain but it’s the feeling that they experienced real flamenco. One motivating response we’ve gotten from people who have been to Spain, is that even in Spain, they didn’t experience what we have to offer.”
Ramirez said flamenco is second nature to the couple’s 7-year-old son, Alejandro, but he usually associates it with work.
“He’s aware of how difficult it is. He told us he wants to sing because the dance is too hard … and you sweat a lot,” she said, smiling.
After the last performances in San Antonio, EntreFlamenco will head to New Mexico from Sept. 18 to Oct. 12 where they’ll perform at the Lodge at Santa Fe.
While Granjero speaks English, he is able to express his thoughts more clearly in his native Spanish. As Ramirez translated for him, it was evident how in tune they were with each other in life, as well as in dance.
“I feel very fortunate to share my artistic experience and work with Antonio. His level of artistry is as good as it gets,” Ramirez said. “It’s a luxury, yet a demanding and huge responsibility to work under his artistic direction.”
To experience that artistry, call 210-842-4926 for tickets to “Tendencias” Sept. 13-14. The passion of flamenco can be yours as well.
Annette Crawford is a public affairs officer at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. She is also the house photographer for the Majestic Theatre and Sam’s Burger Joint & Music Hall. You can read her music and travel blog at www.thegroovygringa.com or follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @thegroovygringa.