Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The story of “La Chayí"

This weekend in Seville, there will be a homenaje for Pilar Montoya Manzano “La Faraona”.  I will be there in my sprit and I would like to dedicate this blog to her.  

People have wondered and asked me about why I use my artistic name “La Chayí”.  I by nature am not interested in calling myself a Spanish name because I dance Flamenco.  I am happy with my Japanese name because that's who I am and I am proud of my parents who gave me my name Sachiko.  “La Chayí” came from one of my most beloved and influential teachers, Pilar Montoya Manzano “La Faraona” in Seville, Spain.  It was a nickname that she had given to me.  She is a daughter of the legendary and one of the best Flamenco dancers in history, El Farruco.  You could tell that she was a true artist just by watching her subtle movements.  Everything about her was Flamenco and everything around her was moving.  She had a magical energy that stirred up the world.    

Pilar had a special talent of giving students nicknames.  In my case, she had trouble pronouncing my name Sachiko, so she started to call me “Chayí (or Yayí)”.  She tragically died from cancer in March of 2015. As her students, the months before her death were very intense for us. Her passing was so sad for us but also bonded us as her dance students.  She called us “mis niñas” (my girls) instead of ‘my students’.  She gave us so much love.  

In one class, I remember she picked up on me.  She was critical about my facial expressions, basically for not having much expression.  It was very difficult and embarrassing to be directly questioned about something that I was lacking as a Flamenco dancer in front of other students.  I felt like that I was looking for an exit in a dark for a day.  But something lifted up in my mind.  I thought I would try just as she expects me.  In the next class, I felt amazing.  I was not concerned about the steps that I was learning or doing them right.  I for the first time was not worried about doing Flamenco right.  I was purely dancing and being myself but not thinking.  

I was in her last class before she died, and I happened to be the only one who knew the choreography that she had taught us.  She put me in front and we showed her our last Tangos.  I remember that there was such an amazing sensation running through my body.  I no longer knew where I was or what I was feeling.  As I danced tears went down my face. I did not want to lose her and I wanted to dedicate my dance to her.  I had never felt that way before. Afterwards, I ran to her like a little girl and she took my hands and whispered “Has bailao mu bien (You danced very well)”.  That was my last memory of La Faraona.

It makes me very emotional to see this but this is from her last class. 

I returned to Minneapolis after five years in Seville one month after her death.  It was an emotionally intense time in my life. I was grieving her death and leaving Seville, and also I was adjusting to my new life. I decided to use the nickname “La Chayí” as my artistic name to honor La Faraona. I always remember what a giving teacher she was. When I call myself “La Chayí”, it is with pride and I remind myself that I must dance well as she expected me to.  It helps me to keep the memory of La Faraona and her love for Flamenco and her students alive.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Is it too early?

It was a big decision when I decided to do a student show last Fall.  I always thought about it but I offer classes only once a week, and I found it very difficult to build students´ strength or choreography.  The majority of the students thought it would be a great opportunity for them.  I decided to do so because I wanted to know where this would take us to.

Performing Flamenco is an important deal for me.  I danced in Seville, but I had so much respect for Seville´s Flamenco and I always felt that it was too early and I should study more before getting on a stage.  But at the same time, if I had not, I would not have learned what I did by performing.  You can take classes and practice in studio for hours or years and if you don´t put your learning into practice, what you learned will be just a theory.  Indeed, you need a repeated practices in performing to truly understand how it works.  

I decided to do this show as one step of learning process for my students, hoping they will see things and learn about themselves and their dances that they would not in classes.  And I was not wrong.

They knew that they were in charge of their own dances because it would be their solo dances.  They started to notice what they did not know ask questions, even a simple things like Flamenco terms (escobilla, falseta, etc).  They started to notice what base they need to dance an entire piece alone.  

After this show, they need to get back to classes and studio and continue to build their technical skills, strength, and understanding of Flamenco.  They have a long way.  We are all students in Flamenco.  The only thing that makes us valid to share our dances is love and respect for the art form, hours of practice, investigation and learning, and humbleness of our attitude and desire to get better. 

We had a rehearsal with our musicians last night.  It was a pure pleasure to watch my students enjoying so much to dive in their music and just dance.  It was amazing to watch how all those small pieces of preparation came together to create the energy that swallowed us all.  I promise that you will witness a great show.  To read each student´s bio. please go to the Facebook event page.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Whether good or bad, Flamenco is Flamenco

I went to the iconic Flamenco dancer Farruquito's classes for two years when I lived in Seville.  He started to give regular classes at Flamencos por el Mundo school in January 2013 and I went to his first class out of curiosity because I always knew that he was an amazing dancer.  He was getting busier with his tours and performances, but whenever he was teaching and I was in Seville, I went to his classes.  He is the first grandson of the legendary bailaor El Farruco, and he inherited everything about baile flamenco from his grandfather.  Farruquito is obviously one of the finest Flamenco dancers alive, or should I say the best, as the most people would agree.  He was also a fabulous teacher that could teach both in dance and theory of Flamenco.  I loved listening to what he talked as much as his pasos he taught us in class.  I loved his ideas, views and what he knew about Flamenco.  Somehow I understood and agreed on everything he said.  It made sense to me.  

One of my most favorite videos of Farruquito´s dance.  He must have been about 20 years old.

One of the things he said in class and has stayed in my mind to this day is when he talked about cuatro pasos (I will talk about this sometime later), and Flamenco malo or Flamenco bueno.  He said that whether something is good or bad, Flamenco is Flamenco.  He said that someone can dance Flamenco badly, but you would still call it Flamenco if it is done in the way that it should be.

Later, in an interview with The New York Times, he said, “The concept [of Flamenco] is simple..Musicians play and [a dancer] dances, everyone improvising in the moment. It’s Flamenco the way it’s always been done… except that no one is doing it that way anymore.”  

I instantly knew what he was talking about and could relate it to my thoughts when he said this in class. For example, I love Israel Galván. I think he is a genius and an amazing dancer, and I go see his shows. Many people who like so-called Flamenco puro do not like him because they do not think his dance is Flamenco. On the other hand, when I go see him, I don't watch his work as Flamenco. I still love it. I see his dance as his own invention based on his career as a Flamenco dancer, inspirations, values and ideas around Flamenco. But he is still extraordinary and I enjoy watching him very much. It does not have to be Flamenco for me to love something artistically brilliant. However, when his shows are sold as "Flamenco", I have a trouble and feel that we need a clear definition of Flamenco and distinction between what Flamenco NATURALLY is, and inventions by artists or others that make something outside Flamenco, because the danger that we all know is that something named "Flamenco" sells. As a consequence, it causes negative effects such as misunderstanding, misconception, or confusion.

When I listened to Farruquito talking about the distinction of what is Flamenco and what is not, it stuck in my mind.  I have thought about it over years, and gradually, It helped me determine what I wanted to dance and the path I wanted to go through; I might not be the most amazing bailaora on the earth, but I still want to dance Flamenco and be a bailaora in the real sense.  This is not an easy thing even just to say.  Dancing Flamenco in the real sense is the hardest thing I ever tried in my life.  Farruquito´s words also helped me clarify the confusions that many people might be experiencing.  It is not about being good or bad, or simple or complicated.  Whether Flamenco or not is defined by the nature of what you do.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

After finishing our first "Noche Gitana"

José and Miriam left this afternoon.   It was the first show I organized and in which I danced after I came back from Spain last April.   I can't say it's been an easy transition to move back to Minneapolis.  I've been searching for reasons why I moved back besides my husband and ways to integrate my experiences and learning in Spain and my actions here.  This show was one of the answers to myself. Towards the end of my stay in Seville it felt so comfortable and home for the city and good friends like Miriam and I've missed being there.  For that reason, it was so nice to see and spend time with them. They have a very relaxing air around them. They are very sweet and loving. It reminded me how I was feeling when I was living there.  In Seville, many artists and friends told me, "flamenco no tiene prisa (nothing hurries in flamenco)".  Their temperament in singing and dancing must come from a very deep place within them. 

I wonder if there had been a concert in the Twin Cities which featured flamenco singing before this one.  It wanted this to be a cante concert.  I wanted to feel that I were in Seville and the same for the audience.  It is logical that in this community when people think of flamenco, many of them think that it's dance or guitar first. It is really cante and compás.  Also, because I mostly learned what flamenco is about not in dance classes I attended but in conversations I had with my teachers, artists and aficionados friends, having an interview part with José was important for me.  It was a risk I took by taking time for an interview with José and putting importance on singing than dancing because I thought I might disappoint people who came mainly to see dance.  In order to set a common ground between the artists, the audience and my goal,  it was important that the audience got to know about José as a person and as a singer.  I wanted this concert to stress out the fact that cante is the most important and essential element in flamenco and that everything else including dance elaborates as an interpretation of cante.  I recognized we had so many challenges and imperfection due to lack of time to rehearse, also lack of staff members and experiences to carry out a concert.  I figured everything has a learning curve and I certainly discovered a lot by doing it last night.  We did our best and hopefully it'll only get better.  This was a great kick-off for a new page of my flamenco journey.  Everything happened naturally and spontaneously that night.  Everything was the flamenco I love.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Remembering Pedro Bacán

I met Jill Snow in Minneapolis this April after I came back from Sevilla Spain.  Jill has her family members living in Minneapolis and was visiting them.  She is from Colorado but moved to Europe.  She was married to one of my favorite flamenco guitarists from Lebrija, Pedro Bacán, who died in an unfortunate car accident at the age of 46 in 1997.  

Pedro Bacán, guitarist from Lebrija

Jill and I became friends through the flamenco community in Sevilla when I was living there.  We had mutual friends and I started to see her in flamenco fiestas.  Jill first arrived in Morón de la Frontera in the 60’s when the Father of Morón-style guitar Diego del Gastor was still alive.  Jill was indeed with Diego in a bar just before he died one morning in 1973.  She told me that when Diego was alive, Morón was full of good fiestas almost every day and night, either with him or his nephews.  It was a golden age of fiestas in major flamenco towns such as Sevilla, Utrera, Lebrija, Morón and Jerez.  In such an environment many of the great singers and guitarists were born.   She is one of many foreigners from the U.S. or Japan who witnessed the most raw form of flamenco by living in these places.  She met Pedro in 1973 in an all-night fiesta after the renowned flamenco festival Reunión de Cante Jondo in Puebla de Cazalla.  They got married in 1979.  Jill resides in Sevilla and enjoys spending time with her baby granddaughter.  I am always surprised to find how small the world of flamenco is knowing each other in every place of the world.  This time again it is quite an interesting coincidence that we both have connections to Sevilla and Minneapolis though we are from other places.  

We talked about her husband Pedro Bacán’s guitar and his background.  He started to play guitar when he was 15 years old.  It is not an early age to start to become a professional flamenco guitarist.  He is from the prestigious flamenco gypsy families, los Pinini y los Peñas, from Lebrija and Utrera and his cousins were El Lebrijano, Pedro Peña, La Fernanda y Bernarda, Miguel Funi, el Turronero, and Pepa de Benito; his father was a knowledgeable non-professional singer.  He was inspired to play guitar listening to his cousin Pedro Peña who was the first professional guitarist from Lebrija.  Since youth Pedro Bacán had extensive accompanying experience with the greatest singers in his family mentioned above.

Los Pinini family’s fiesta

Later in his career he started to develop his own musical style.  He composed numerous falsetas and guitar solos.  Jill said that she does not hear many younger-generation guitarists playing Pedro’s style which was very intricate and difficult, plus it was his own music.  Apart from many other recordings, Pedro gathered numerous singers together in a country house for a 4-album recording  called “Noches Gitanas en Lebrija”.  He wanted to document some of the unknown singers and cante (singing) from Lebrija, and Pepa de Benito from Utrera, and  included styles of gitanos del campo (country gypsies) of Lebrija which carry the very distinctive slow compás (rhythm) in Bulerías.  She also noted that apart from gitanos de campos, in Lebrija, there are also artesanos, which Pedro’s families are called, and they carry different compás and cante styles from those of gitanos de campos.  

Music from the album “Noches Ginatas en Lebrija”

One interesting thing about flamenco is that there are different styles, developed in each town and even in different family “dynasties” and are expressed in their family and community gatherings, not only the style of cante but also their distinct feelings of compás.  I did not notice it until I lived in Seville and started listening a lot and noticing how different they are depending on where they are from.  Flamenco is a way of life expressed in music, Jill says.  She described the compás por Bulerías of Lebrija as “funky”.  It is definitely slower and the beat is more accentuated than those of Jerez or Morón.  It is almost relaxing with the slower swing.  Pedro Bacán’s guitar had two characteristics: his musical originality and being a guitarist from Lebrija embedded in this unique and personal style of compás.  Flamenco is so rich in its diversity.  The more I know, the more humble I become and eager to learn those new discoveries to enjoy and love the music in a deeper way.  Thanks to Jill for introducing me to some new perspectives with her expertise as a noble aficionada for decades and generously sharing her stories as the wife of the great guitarist.