“The Jews were massacred, the Gypsies humiliated and persecuted, the Arabs exterminated, the Moriscos (converted Arabs) expelled, and the Andalucians generally exploited…if we do not relate the music…to brutality, repression, hunger, fear, menace, inferiority, resistance, and secrecy, then we shall not find the reality of cante flamenco…it is a storm of exasperation and grief.”
–Historian Felix Grande, writing about the origins of flamenco in 15th- to 17th-century Spain
“Flamenco is one of the most visceral forms of art that speaks about the human condition,” said Martín Santangelo, director of Noche Flamenca. The company of musicians and dancers will bring their talents to a nine-day residency at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center in Tivoli, culminating in public performances on Saturday, November 30, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 1, at 2:30 p.m.
With a Jewish father from Philadelphia and maternal grandparents from Spain and Argentina, Santangelo’s ancestry reflects some of the influences that combined to inspire flamenco. He was born in New York City and moved to Madrid in the 1980s to study flamenco. There he met and married Soledad Barrio, who became Noche Flamenca’s lead dancer. In the past year, they have relocated to New York City, which has become their base of operations for performance and touring.
Flamenco is a product of Andalucia, a region of southern Spain, where the Renaissance brought a pinnacle of achievements in science, literature, poetry, music, and dance, in a mingling of 27 different cultures. “It was a moment of heightened enlightenment,” explained Santangelo, “that degenerated quickly because of the Inquisition. What remained was the essence of these cultures, which formed the flamenco.”
The basis of flamenco is song, with a variety of traditional forms: siguiriya, soleare, alegria, martinete, jaleo, and more, each with its own complex rhythm and mode of expression. “When a singer had a song,” said Santangelo, “a musician would accompany the song, and then dancing came much later. The guitar now accompanies both singers and dancers.”
Formerly a dancer, Santangelo now takes the role of director and sometimes choreographer, adapting traditional melodies to themes he is drawn to, then molding song, accompaniment, and dance to heighten the impact. The program to be performed at Kaatsbaan is entitled Sombras Sagradas, or Sacred Shadows. “It’s about things that have shadowed me, protected or not protected me, lived inside of me,” said the director.
Among the pieces are “Esta Noche No Es Mi Dia (This Night is not My Day),” a tribute to a flamenco singer he worked with for many years, now dead. A new piece, “El Cazador,” is based on a Chekhov short story, “The Huntsman,” that has haunted Santangelo for 30 years. He describes “Siguiriya,” a solo by Barrio, as “a tragic dance about death, about how we are alone in life, and about accepting it.”
Santangelo and Barrio have performed in the Woodstock area before, when they used to come to visit artist Mary Frank and occasionally gave shows at the Byrdcliffe Theater. Nicole Bernhardt was growing up in Bearsville at that point, studying with the grande dame of local flamenco, Maraquita Flores, who was “80, four foot eight, and fierce,” according to Bernhardt. Flores is now 98 and living in Virginia, and Bernhardt is still passionate about flamenco. She facilitated the Noche Flamenca residency, hoping that Kaatsbaan might help to generate a flamenco community.
Weekly flamenco classes, for both adults and children, are already being taught by Kati Garcia-Renart at the not-for-profit center. Bernhardt said Garcia-Renart also teaches at an annual flamenco festival in New Mexico, where for two weeks “they eat, drink, and sleep flamenco — sounds like heaven to me!”
One of Kaatsbaan’s missions is the encouragement of dance communities through its activities on the 153-acre east-of-the-Hudson property formerly owned by Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandparents. Founded and run by former American Ballet Theater dancers, the center features dance studios and accommodations in the renovated buildings that include a barn designed by architect Stanford White. Kaatsbaan brings dancers of many styles from all over the world to create, rehearse, and perform on its rural campus.
Noche Flamenca presents Sombras Sagradas at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center on Saturday, November 30, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 1, at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 for general reserved seating, $45 for cafe table seating. For reservations and information, call 845-757-5106 x10. For information on Monday evening flamenco classes at Kaatsbaan, see https://www.kaatsbaan.org/. Kaatsbaan is located at 120 Broadway in Tivoli.