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Stomp: Maria Benitez's Santa Fe workshop draws flamenco artists and aficionados from around the world.

On a hot, bright Santa Fe afternoon, flamenco student Keyana de Aguero watches teacher Estefania Ramirez demonstrate how to move with her gown's attachment, a long train called tile bata de cola. This solca-with-train is once again popular, and rates a class of its own. "I get a little scared about stepping on anyone's train," de Aguero admits afterwards. "I could rip off somebody's dress. So I don't take my eyes off Estefania. We follow her through the solea rhythm. We kick on count 10, the train lands on count 11, and on 12 we step out to do a marcaje, the marking step across the floor." Ramirez cautions her 19 students not to kick the bata or lift it with hip moves. "Then," says de Aguero, 17, "she shows us how to move our leg from a second position around to an attitude arabesque and place the bata gently on the floor with our foot."

Santa Fe's flamenco pulse quickens each summer as flamenco celebrities, novices, and professionals arrive to teach and study intensively for eight days in Maria Benitez's International Spanish Dance and Music Workshop. After dancing and choreographing flamenco to critical acclaim all over the world, Benitez, who grew up in Taos, hung up her performing shoes last year. But she still teaches and choreographs for opera and her youth troupe, and directs the annual workshop. Her charismatic, driving style melds years of ballet and modern dance training with the discipline of classical Spanish flamenco in Jose Creco's elegant tradition. She studied flamenco in Madrid from age 19 and began performing six months later. She toured for the next five years before returning to New Mexico and settling in Santa Fe.

The workshop, staffed by marquee flamenco performers from Spain and the U.S., offers classes for beginners and professionals, both teens and adults--175 students in 2005. "Some professionals and workshops don't want to work with beginners," says Benitez. "But we welcome adults who have never danced flamenco." The first day, most students take all of the free demonstration classes and then select one or more classes for the next eight days of instruction. Before the dancers leave, they join their teachers to demonstrate their art at a culminating performance for the general community.

Instructors who come for the workshop also dance six nights a week all summer as members of Benitez's ensemble, Teatro Flamenco, at the The Lodge at Santa Fe's Maria Benitez Theatre. During the workshop week, participating students take turns ushering. After watching one of her teachers, Antonio C, raniero, perform, Julie Moreno, who appears with Theatre Flamenco in San Francisco, has high praise for his jackhammer feet and warm, earthy Jerez Style workshop (which hails from Spain's Andalucia, often called flamenco's birthplace). "He takes time with each of us to get that fast, staccato footwork," she says. "I heard that Antonio's feet broke through the Lodge dance floor twice last season."

Each teacher prepares a choreographed segment, so that students leave with a work they can perform. All classes include song, guitar, and general patterns so that students learn how to integrate dancing with singing. Many students return yearly so that they can experience various dance styles, including instruction in Spanish classical dance, a flamenco precursor that integrates precision castanets into flamenco, which is not widely available at workshops elsewhere. As Benitez explains, each instructor possesses her or his own style. "One teacher uses more space, another more feet, another more arms, and some female teachers are more aggressive in their movement than others."

The graceful performer Juanaire, who lives in Germany and performs throughout Europe, returns to teach annually. One of his students in ]Flamenco Dance Level One, 12-year-old Nicolas Watkins, watches him demonstrate multiple turns and footwork. "He's like a cat, very graceful, powerful, and fast, yet light on his feet," says the teenager, who has been to several previous Benitez workshops. Watkins says he learned "a little bit of a turn," hoping that next year, like his instructor, he'll keep his balance while doing sequential turns in place.

La Tania, a poised, statuesque woman who employs a style similar to Benitez, led a workshop for 46 intermediate and advanced students eager to learn the regal carriage of flamenco. Focusing on the hands, upper body and arms, her Lyrical Style Workshop teaches the interpretation of the introspective solea.

Towards the end of the workshop week, several students remark that once they mastered the basics, flamenco allows them room to improvise a bit. As Domino Martinez, 17 and a member of Benitez's youth troupe, reflects: "I got better at the alegria. It's very uplifting, a beautiful, happy dance. The cante (song) adds the passion. Then flamenco lets me lose myself in the dance."

Janet Eigner, a Santa Fe writer, frequently covers dance.
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Title Annotation:2006 summer study guide
Author:Eigner, Janet
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Words:800
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