A flamenco performance is an exorcism of sorts. The dancers, singers and musicians who practice this artform are forever in quest of a quality called duende – a word that has no exact English equivalent. In the folklore of Spanish-speaking countries, a duende is a kind of mischievous household spirit: a goblin or sprite who can be helpful if appeased, harmful if crossed. Metaphorically speaking, duende is that dark, insistent, otherworldly quality of a work of art that makes the little hairs on the backs of your arms stand up. Once it’s in you, you’ve got to dance it out. The great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca wrote a famous essay trying to define duende, terming it “the very dearest thing that life can offer the intellectual.”
The Hudson Valley isn’t normally a place one associates with the spirit of duende, but Anna Librada Mazo Georges is aiming to change that by bringing a Flamenco Festival to our neck of the woods next week. Born and mostly raised in New Paltz, she’s the daughter of Kim Ellis, a retired teacher, novelist and co-founder of the Next Year’s Words reading series, and Paco Mazo, a social worker. Anna has duende in her blood from her father’s side: Her Andalucían grandparents fled Spain to resettle in the US in the 1930s. Anna got her middle name, Librada, from her grandmother: “It’s a rare Spanish name,” she says. “It was outlawed by Franco because it’s the feminine form of librado, which means freed or liberated.”
At the age of 9, Anna began studying dance with Susan Slotnick, and at age 12 with Livia Vanaver. “Bill Vanaver loves flamenco,” she notes. “From the time I was little, he was telling me, ‘You’re Andalucían; you should learn flamenco!” She experienced her first flamenco master class at the age of 15; then, while studying Arts Management and Dance at Emerson College, she took a year off to spend time with her grandmother, who had moved back to Spain following the fall of the Franco regime. There she studied flamenco from true masters of the art at Peña la Platería, an institute founded by García Lorca himself to help preserve traditional Spanish culture. And there she found her life’s calling.
“I wanted to drop out of college and stay there, but my parents said no,” Anna recalls. “So as soon as I graduated college, I moved to Granada. I lived in a cave overlooking the Alhambra!” Longtime readers of the New Paltz Times may recall that, while studying dance in Spain circa 2005, she also worked as a “foreign correspondent” for that paper.
In 2010, Anna came home from a stint of teaching flamenco in Japan and married her high school sweetheart, Jack Georges. Jack’s Navy career means that the family — now including daughters Abigail, 7, and Lucelia, 3 — must move to a new country every few years when Jack gets reassigned; Abigail was born in Italy. Fortunately for Anna’s work, they have been able to spend the past two years living in Spain, where she has been studying advanced flamenco technique. “Our kids are the fifth generation in my family who have lived in both Spain and the US,” she says.
But this summer, Anna is spending some time back in her old New Paltz stomping grounds, teaching flamenco to students in the Vanaver Caravan’s SummerDance youth program. “Whenever I’m home, I will teach for SummerDance,” she says. But she’s also making a longtime dream come true: launching the first-ever Hudson Valley Flamenco Festival, which she hopes will become an ongoing annual cultural celebration and help establish the region as a hotbed of duende.
The 2018 Flamenco Festival runs from August 5 to 12. The launch event will begin around 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 5 at the Mudd Puddle Café in the Water Street Market in New Paltz. Anna describes it as an “impromptu, spontaneous performance,” or what kids on social media today would probably call a flash mob. “Come for brunch next Sunday and see what happens,” she teases on the Festival’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/hudsonvalleyflamencofestival). Then, on Thursday, August 9, some of the artists participating in the Flamenco Festival will perform in an after-dinner show for guests at the Mohonk Mountain House.
The main event, titled Cante, Baile, Toque, is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 11 at the Rosendale Theatre. It’s a family-friendly multimedia performance that will run about 75 minutes, Anna says. Most of the program consists of what she calls “the people’s flamenco”: the traditional form that is performed at social gatherings all over southern Spain, as opposed to “high art” flamenco. “All the artists participating have connections to the Hudson Valley,” she adds. “Our mission is supporting artists in search of duende.”
Saturday’s performers include singers Mario Rincon and Julia Patinella, guitarists Jared Newman and Mike Diago and dancers Elisabet Torras and Anna Librada Georges herself. Choreographer/filmmaker Deirdre Towers will screen a short film titled Black Light, accompanied by Newman. And Mayta Fusion Dance, a brand-new ensemble experimenting with modern improvisatory approaches to flamenco, will have its premiere performance. Tickets for Cante, Baile, Toque cost $15 in advance, available online at www.hudsonvalleyflamencofestival.brownpapertickets.com, or $20 at the door.
The Hudson Valley Flamenco Festival winds up on Sunday, August 12 at 2 p.m., when the Rosendale Theatre screens La Chana, Lucija Stojevic’s documentary about the return to the stage of Antonia Santiago Amador, a once-famous gitana (Roma) flamenco dancer. Festival board member Deirdre Towers was co-producer of the film.
“Flamenco has been a lifelong passion for me, and it’s important to me that we shine a light on local artists because the Hudson Valley is home to some incredible flamenco singers, dancers and musicians,” says Anna. “Flamenco isn’t just about performing; it is about creating art in collaboration with the audience. We could not be more excited about joining the community and making flamenco together.”