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Flamenco Dancer Interview by Michael Perez

In my second post as a guest blogger here at Lisner, I’d like to introduce local flamenco dancer Sara Jerez, a very active performer in the DC area since 1996 in Spanish restaurants, clubs, theaters, festivals you name it. Sara has also given dance workshops in Lisner’s Flamenco Festival several times over the years. And it just so happens that many of the flamenco artists she mentions (highlighted in bold text) in this interview have performed at one time or another in Lisner’s Flamenco Festival. 

Miguelito: Who is your favorite well-known flamenco dancer/musician? Why?

Sara Jerez: As for dancers, I think it goes back to Carmen Amaya because she was so innovative and really broke the mold in terms of what would later be expected of women dancing flamenco. Prior to that, it was all about upper body movement, women didn’t have the power and the prestige that men had until Carmen Amaya showed that she could be as strong, if not stronger than any man on stage as a presence and as an artist.

And in terms of musicians, I greatly admire Paco de Lucía as a real pioneer of modern flamenco. I also love Manolo Sanlúcar. His music is just so artistic and complex as well as lyrical.  There are many other guitarists that are from a newer generation that I admire: Gerardo Nuñez, Vicente Amigo, Tomatito

M: I should mention to our readers that you are married to a flamenco guitarist. Has your husband Richard Marlow influenced your tastes?

SJ: Yes of course he’s influenced me…if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t know the singers like José Mercé, Duquende and Potito. And the older ones too: Caracol, Mairena, Chacón and Platero de Alcalá, this older generation that I would never have been exposed to had I not been married to Richard.

I can’t think of all of the names, but there’s so much through osmosis that I’ve learned. He just is so…flamenco is such a 24/7 passion for him. For me, it hasn’t always been that way. As much as my life has been dedicated to flamenco, I’ve had other varied passions and interests, a bit of a Jill of all trades and a master of none. He’s really focused so much on it [flamenco]. I’ve learned most things about flamenco music and rhythm through him.

M:Full disclosure for our readers: I perform with you a lot. I recall one time when I  was in the car with you on the way to a gig when you played a CD you had by a guitarist named Antonio Rey.

SJ: Oh yes…also a favorite of mine and another guitarist Richard introduced me to. Not only is Antonio Rey technically brilliant but he’s also so melodic in his musical phrasing. He’s got such beautiful compositions. I hear a lot of Paco de Lucía, Gerardo Núñez and Vicente Amigo influences in his music.

M: So you mentioned Carmen Amaya as one of your favorite dancers. Can you mention a favorite from the current generation of dancers?

SJ: Sara Baras in terms of female dancers…she’s always just been so strong, so powerful and so beautiful in the stuff that she’s done.  Rocío Molina has such a uniqueness. She’s beautiful and lyrical as a dancer but in a very different way.

I think Sara Baras is little bit more into her body lines and aesthetics while dancing, whereas Rocío does not have the stereotypical ballet dancer body. And her movements aren’t that stereotypically flamenco either but they’re also very beautiful and she really puts so much thought and energy into it…really innovative, really outside of the box, on the edge.

Israel Galván is a very interesting dancer who makes one wonder where in the world flamenco is going in terms of the dancing with influences that are so modern and non-stereotypical of what we think of as flamenco. Is it evolving to something else? You see so many external influences that it’s almost…can we still call it flamenco? Obviously we can because it’s what’s evolving in Spain but it’s really deviating very quickly, especially in the last ten years, from what we’ve come to know of as flamenco dancing.

M: How has the Flamenco community grown in DC over the last 10 years artistically and economically?

SJ: In terms of the economics, we are so fortunate that there have been a lot of restaurants that have been able to sustain flamenco shows for many many years…Las Tapas, La Tasca, Jaleo. We really have been able to count on those jobs for a long time and when some of those jobs dropped out, there seems to be something right around the corner that pops up to keep the business going.  One thing I have learned is that nothing is forever and I could be out of a job tomorrow without warning.  I’ve been extremely fortunate to sustain myself economically as long as I have doing this art form that I love so much!

I think that you (Miguelito) have been instrumental in terms of really getting the word out for all things flamenco in DC, publicizing everybody [at DCFlamenco.com]. I don’t know how long you have been doing it but it’s really about having a source that everybody can go to and know that you’re going to promote flamenco and not just one person but the whole community. 

And I think that’s been really important in terms of getting the word out as far as where one can find flamenco in DC and where interested students can find teachers. I’ve always referred people to your website. It’s so easy. The info is all there.

To answer your first question regarding how artistically the community has evolved, I think that the more dancers and musicians that there are, the more everyone grows as artists.  Personally, I’ve gained a lot from hanging out and working with our flamenco community, from novices to professionals.  Learning from and emulating attributes from other dancers to make my own performances better.  We are also constantly challenged to keep on top of our game. I see the younger generations coming up and technically they’ve become proficient in flamenco more quickly than when I was starting because the bar of knowledge has increased exponentially and is being disseminated so quickly.

The flamenco teachers brought in constantly for workshops are influencing all of this because it makes us grow that much faster and work that much harder.  Edwin Aparicio has been instrumental in bringing in external artists to give dance workshops keeping us grounded into what flamenco really is from top notch professional Spanish dancers like Manuel Liñan, Domingo Ortega, La Tati and Carmela Greco to name a few.

M: Who are local dancers/musicians that you respect/admire?

SJ: I have to say that I am very biased about those that I admire as all are my very good friends! As guitarist, I admire you (Miguelito) and Richard because I’ve been working with you guys for so many years and we’ve all grown and toiled side by side in this business!  You both have worked hard to pass your knowledge to many aspiring flamenco guitarists and kept the business alive by getting jobs at restaurants, with government agencies and private industry throughout the years.  It’s not only about the art of flamenco, but the art of business!!  As for dancers,  Edwin Aparicio has been a real powerhouse in terms of keeping flamenco at a high level and advancing so many people as a teacher and as an artist and always doing shows that culminate in the highest level of flamenco artistry.  Anna Menéndez I also respect greatly. She has also passed on her tremendous knowledge and artistry to many dancers and worked to advance her own dance company, Pastora, to highlight her own vision and interpretations of flamenco.   Having a company and putting on shows is a lot of hard work! I admire anyone that endeavors into that!   There other many other groups/companies in town and many individual dancers that are very talented that should get acknowledgement but there are too many to name!  I am just really happy to be one of many in our DC flamenco community!

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Miguelito, the visionary behind @DCFlamenco Talks Flamenco History in DC

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I’m Michael Perez, but everyone calls me Miguelito.  I am a full-time "flamenco guitarist" musician here in the DC area. I can humbly claim that I’m well-known in the Washington DC flamenco community mostly because I’ve been a very active member of that community for more than 22 years—and by active I mean playing guitar for dance classes and shows every week for those 22 years!

Coincidentally, I first got involved with the local scene at George Washington University in June 1991.  I had just recently graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Classical Guitar from the California State University Fullerton, and I was hired to provide live accompaniment for the flamenco dance classes taught by Marina Keet in the studio next to the Marvin Theater here on the GW campus.  Some of the dancers associated with that studio went on to form their own dance companies.  And some members of those companies broke away and formed their own companies.

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This all happened through most of the 90’s and since there were very few flamenco guitarists in DC that could accompany dancers, I ended up playing for just about every group in the area at that time: Spanish Dance SocietyZiva’s Spanish Dance Ensemble, Danza del Río, Viva Flamenco, Natalia Monteleón’s Arte Flamenco and the Ana Martínez Flamenco Dance Company.

How did I get introduced to flamenco?

I was introduced to flamenco  in 1990. I was in my junior year in college majoring in music. Between classes I would sit on a bench outside the music department building and random people would grab a seat next to me and listen. Performing for this audience of one was my way of working on overcoming stage fright—and yes in the long run it worked.

One day this cute girl named Elizabeth sat next to me, listened to me play and afterwards introduced herself. Turns out she was a flamenco guitarist. We became friends and long story short she taught me the basics of flamenco and referred me to the Blanca Luz Dance Academy where I played for flamenco dancers for the first time. I was in my early 20’s and the idea of playing guitar and hanging out with beautiful dancers got me hooked and it sort of grew from there. Having said that, there’s way more to flamenco than just guitar and cute dancers which brings me to answer the question:

What is flamenco to me?

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It’s an artistic form of expression strongly influenced by the Gypsies who traveled from India Westward through North Africa and Europe eventually converging in Andalucía in Southern Spain.  Along the way, the Gypsies were influenced by the music, dance and poetry of the many cultures they encountered along the way. 

When I first heard flamenco singing (at a flamenco party in Los Angeles in the summer of 1990), I could barely understand a word, but somehow it touched me emotionally. I believe there are many cultures embodied subconsciously in the music. And while I couldn’t put my finger on it precisely, there was something in flamenco singing, playing, and dance that resonated with me that night that made me thirst for more.

When I listen to the flamenco singer, even if I don’t understand the words, I can feel the emotions he’s expressing. It’s very therapeutic. It’s what drives people to want to get up and dance, play guitar or simply shout “Ole!”

And believe it or not, after 22 years of performing flamenco in DC, it still touches me emotionally just as much as that very first time.

So that’s a bit about me to give you an idea where I’m coming from. I have so many stories to tell and from time to time, I’ll tell you more and hopefully entice you to checkout Lisner Auditorium’s upcoming Flamenco Festival and the local flamenco scene.

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Musical Tributes to Talented Familes

This week we welcome Solange to Lisner Auditorium with special guest Iman Omari on November 2nd. Another Knowles family member that you  may know is her sister, singer/song-writer Beyonce.  Talented families have flooded the music industry for years.  Here are a few notable families Musical Families of some of the greatest group.  Jackson five, Isley Brothers, Clancy Brothers,  Sly and the Family Stone, Cool and the Gang, the BeeGees

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Buena Vista Social Club

On October 8, 2013, Buena VISTA social club performance at the George Washington University Lisner Auditorium.   The 13 member Buena Vista Social Club recorded a self-titled album of lively folksongs, Latin jazz and passionate ballads in 1997, they immediately took the world by storm and ultimately won a GRAMMY® for their efforts. Further propelled by an Oscar-nominated documentary by filmmaker Wim Wenders a year later and a series of international tours, the group and their music became one of the primary catalysts in the re-emergence of the Latin sound into the musical mainstream.  Check out these photos from the event and link to a story by PBSimage

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Army Band Fall Concert- September 30

On September 30, the United States Army Field Band presented at the Lisner Auditorium as part of our #Lisner Serve event.  Jonathan Agee, U.S. Army Field spokeperson stated the following “As musical ambassadors of the Army, our mission is to bring the Army story to the American people. “During our tours, we are able to reach areas of the country that have little or no contact with the Army or its soldiers.” What does it mean to you to have our country hero come out and serve you with professional entertainment.  As a challenge, Lisner challenges you to commit to at list one day of service in the upcoming month. 

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Elizabeth Smart- October 10, 2013

#Lisnertalks A strong relation with your family can provided some of the greatest inspiration in your life. Elizabeth Smart comes to the Lisner Auditorium to share her powerful story of determination and faith to be reunited with her family again after being trapped in an inhumane situation at the age of 14. Come listen to someone who did not give up against difficult odds and let her story inspire you to succeed.   Check out her most current news video.  image

 

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GW Lisner presents Johnny Clegg March 29, 2014 at 8pm!

Did you guess right? Also known as “The White Zulu”, British-born musician Johnny Clegg is coming to Lisner Auditorium. Check out this #SneakPeekWeek recap where we revealed Johnny Clegg below!

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GW Lisner presents The Idan Raichel Project October 22nd at 8pm

Did you get it right? The first artist reveal in our #SneakPeekWeek is Idan Raichel.

The Idan Raichel Project will make a stop in DC on the heels of the latest album Quarter to Six.  The Washington Post remarked, “Raichel has led his impressive collective pairing up with musicians from around the globe to create pieces that leap through boundaries and create synthesis where one expects disparity.”

Check out our #sneakpeekweek recap & the video for Ima Ita Roe.

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GW Lisner 2013/2014 Overview

GW Lisner features a diverse calendar of performances.  This year’s events deliver a unique experience, each aligning with one of our 6 distinct categories.  We’ve created an easy way to reference the season, check out the category definitions!

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Be sure to connect with us everywhere to stay current on the most up to date information about performances at Lisner Auditorium.

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