Despite Challenges, Flamenco Returns

Valeria Montes and Juani de la Isla emit high energy during their Flamenco performance for the Flamenco Fiesta. Photo courtesy of Casa Flamenco and Manny Lopez

By Noah Solomon / NM News Port

Valeria Montes steps onto the stage for the first time in over a year. Her livelihood depends on it.

Adorned with polka dots and roses, her traje de flamenco (flamenco dress) fluttering, she wasn’t going to let a little Albuquerque monsoon stop her.

“It was special and magical and excruciating,” Montes said – and not just because of the wet weather.

Valeria Montes twirls while performing during Tablao Al Aire on August 29, 2021. Montes is the Artistic and Executive director of Casa Flamenca. Photo by Noah Solomon

“It was worth it despite all of the challenges we had to overcome to make it possible.”

Montes is the Executive and Artistic Director of Casa Flamenca, a performing arts studio based in Old Town. Her first performance of the year happened in August –her season normally starts in May.

Thanks to the prolonged pandemic, Montes had to cancel performances and suspend the travel of her performers.

“Every year we apply for a visa for artists to come from Spain and they are here in residence throughout the year performing, teaching,” Montes said. “Last year due to the pandemic, of course, artists couldn’t make it.”

Casa Flamenca opened its doors in 2010 on the corner of Rio Grande Blvd and Mountain Rd, and has held a yearly concert series. That is until the pandemic disrupted everything in 2020.

“It’s been over a year since we’ve done anything,” Montes lamented. “Actually now we’re going to a year and a half, two years since we’ve been able to perform at all.”

(left to right) Marlon Aldana, Valeria Montes, Juani de la Isla, and Ismael Fernandez perform Tablao Al Aire outside at Casa Flamenca, August 29, 2021. Photo by Noah Solomon

Flamenco is studied worldwide, and Albuquerque is not an exception.

The University of New Mexico is the only school in the United States to offer Flamenco as a Concentration in the Dance program. Introduced around 2000, the Flamenco Concentration has brought dancers of all types from around the world to study and participate in local festivals and work in teatros dedicated to the dance.

“I live in Albuquerque and I work in New York City,” said Leslie Roybal, Program Director at Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana in New York City. “For me, the reopening process was actually, really tumultuous because New York was hit pretty hard and a majority of the programming we had done was moved online,”

A New Mexico native, Roybal said it’s been slow-going getting live Flamenco performances back on stage. She said the venue Entreflamenco in Santa Fe opened for two nights a week in March and then went to five in June, but the resurgence of COVID made the events less safe.

“The challenge comes, with flamenco in particular, is the singer, and the issue of the aerosols,” Roybal said, referring to the virus’ penchant for spreading via the human breath. “They’ve really had to adapt where they could have live guitar and live dancing but they weren’t actually able to have live singing. So, the singing elements were recorded.”

Montes and Roybal share the same sentiment — that the canté, or singing, in flamenco is the most important piece in the ensemble. 

“Without that,” said Montes, “we don’t have anything.”

Montes’ energy flared during her performance as she dominated the venue. Unyielding, she danced like it was the first time, and the last time, flamenco lived on the stage.

Despite the risks and the setback brought on by the pandemic, Montes’ first performance at Casa Flamenca in over a year sent a clear message: flamenco is more than a lifestyle, it is a life of its own.

“This year was sort of like: this explosion of emotions,” Montes said.

Roybal said the flamenco artists that are living and working their art don’t have anything else. Flamenco is their main job.

(left to right) Percussionist Marlon Aldana, Cantaor Ismael Fernandez, and Guitarista Juani de la Isla perform at Tablao Al Aire at Casa Flamenca, August 29, 2021. Photo by Noah Solomon

“When the ability to work in person isn’t possible, it really compromises our livelihoods, our abilities to thrive,” said Roybal. “It’s a really scary prospect right now that we are facing with the delta variant, for sure.”

“That’s something you discover with flamenco,” Montes said, “ that this is our life: this is all we do.”

Noah Solomon is a freelance journalist for the New Mexico News Port. He can be followed on Twitter @NASolomon_01 and reached at noah.andrew.solomon29@gmail.com