Story by Sharon Armstrong.
New Orleans-born dancer Eliza Alcalá remembers the day she decided to give up ballet, which she had studied since the age of three, in favor of Flamenco.
“I have always been dancing,” she said. “But when I was 13, I saw a woman dancing Flamenco and I was just so moved by it. My hands were tingling, and my feet were tingling, and I called home that day, and said ‘Mom, that is what I want to do’ – I (knew then that I) wanted to do that.”
Flamenco, both as a dance and a musical genre, is a difficult thing to pin down to a single culture, but it is generally accepted that it originated in Southern Spain, specifically in the Andalusian region, where it developed thanks to a unique interplay of Arabic, Gypsy and Sephardic influences.
Many people think of this fiery art primarily as a dance form, but the heart and soul of Flamenco can actually be found in its vibrant interplay of song, music and dance, as epitomized by New Orleans-based Flamenco group ¡Ven Pa’ Cá!
Besides featuring Alcalá, the group is led by local guitarist John Lawrence, who has also played with Bonnie Raitt, Ron Wood, and legendary bluesman Charlie Musselwhite, and singer/dancer Maria José Salmerón, aka "La Maqui,” who you might have been lucky enough to catch at JazzFest, where she often performs as a member of ¡Olé Flamenco Olé!, a grass-roots organization that is dedicated to supporting and promoting the art of Flamenco here in new Orleans.
In their début as ¡Ven Pa’ Cá!, Lawrence, Alcalá and Salmerón will also be joined by saxophonist Rob Wagner and percussionist David Sobel.
“The addition of saxophone and percussion to the traditional cuadro (line-up) allows us many more musical possibilities and room for improvisation,” said Lawrence. “Flamenco remains, in the end, a spontaneous and soulful art form that makes perfect sense here in New Orleans, the most soulful of American cities.”
“In Andalucía, Flamenco started with cante, which is the song,” explained Alcalá. “It is an oral type of tradition that is passed on from generation to generation, and that expresses all of the different emotions that these people experienced: love, pain, hardship and betrayal, and all the universal emotions that we have. The idea of our group is not to do a traditional ‘tablao’ style show, but to work together with the elements that we have here to bring in the flavors of New Orleans, and the talent of our local musicians, and combine it with our love for Flamenco. It is a mixture of the moment between the musicians, the dancers, the singers and the audience. It is very pure, you lay everything bare on the stage - it really is nudity - it is not an art form that holds a lot in, it is full expression. It is a shared experience, a moment that they call ‘duende’ when everything is working together.”
¡Ven Pa’ Cá!, which translates as ‘come on over,’ will be bringing the songs and dance of Andalucía to New Orleans on Saturday, October 24 at 9 pm at Chickie Wah Wah's, and on Tuesday, October 27 in the evening at Café Granada.