Flamenco, with its mesmerizing dynamism, has held City Center audiences captive since 2001. Flamenco Festival co-founder Miguel Marín first conceived of the event as a way to promote flamenco artists, who struggled to be seen on New York City’s major concert dance stages. Now, almost 20 years later, the festival programs some of flamenco’s biggest stars. “Our audience has seen a wide variety of visions and expressions of flamenco,” Marín says. “Their sensitivity and connection to flamenco is such that we can present a traditional style, but also what’s motivating the younger generation. It’s wonderful to show what’s really cooking in Spain today.”
This year, the festival lineup includes artists who span the full spectrum of flamenco. The iconic Eva Yerbabuena, an internationally recognized star, personifies what Marín calls “duende,” or the state of emotional and spiritual communion that flamenco dancers strive toward. Jesús Carmona, a former dancer with Ballet Nacional de España and a new choreographic voice, debuts his own company, Ballet Flamenco Jesús Carmona. And the venerable Ballet Nacional de España (BNE) returns after nearly 20 years away from New York City Center, bringing its unique mix of classical ballet and flamenco, plus the impact of an expansive company.
Compañía Eva Yerbabuena’s North American premiere of Carne y Hueso celebrates the company’s 20-year anniversary. “It’s a choreographic tour of different works that have marked our history,” Yerbabuena says. And, in turn, that history has marked New Yorkers. “To bring that kind of energy here and radiate it to the audience, it’s one of the most powerful virtues of flamenco,” Marín says.
Yerbabuena, who is at once lauded as an exemplar of flamenco’s style, yet also an avant-garde artist, finds little value in boxes or labels. “To name what I’m doing now would be to limit and classify me,” she says. “The ways that people describe my creations have never affected what I think I should do. The important thing is for me to have no fear, but lots of respect for where I come from and who I want to become.”
Jesús Carmona was an obvious choice for Marín as he sought to balance this year’s festival. “It’s very difficult to talk about tradition or innovation,” Marín says, “because all of these artists have the capacity to perform a traditional flamenco piece. But their approaches are more about personality and interpretation. In general, it’s not about how you perform the choreography. It’s how you express your soul.” That said, Carmona does have a unique approach to choreography, influenced by his time at BNE, which allows him to meld classical and flamenco styles. “For a while,” Marín says, “flamenco dancers would keep themselves apart. Jesús has training in both styles.”
Carmona choreographs, directs, and stars in Ímpetus, the piece his company brings to City Center. No small feat, even for someone who has been lauded as a prodigy since his professional performance debut at age seven. And while he has shared stages around the world with flamenco’s top artists, Carmona reserves a special place in his heart for his role as director. “I feel very proud to keep my own company performing at a high level, in all the countries where we tour,” he says.
For Marín, Yerbabuena, Carmona, and BNE represent the purpose of flamenco: To offer something more than entertainment. “We have a lot of distractions in life,” he says. “But people are touched by something this honest.” Even if there’s no narrative story, the emotion comes through. “Leave everything you know at the door,” Marín says. “Allow the artist to take you where they want to go.”
Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone is a choreographer, performer and writer, covering dance, music and literature. She is a regular contributor to The Dance Enthusiast, Brooklyn Rail, and Dance Magazine, among other publications.