It was the profound emotion of the music that first drew Maria Vazquez to Flamenco. That, and the "duende," that magical moment in a performance when the distinction between self and other disappears and performer and audience become one. "When it happens it's truly amazing," she said. "People start crying when they experience it. Every artist wants that, to move the soul of your audience."
It's probably safe to say that because of Maria Vazquez, Denver has become something of a hub for Flamenco in the US. For the past twelve years, she's been teaching it on a daily basis to kids from 5 to 75 at her studio in the Santa Fe Arts District. She produces two big recitals a year at venues like Su Teatro and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theater. She also performs weekends in more intimate settings like the Mercury Café, and Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret.
Historians differ as to the origins of Flamenco. Some claim it was carried to Spain from India by gypsies. Others argue that it grew out of the clash of cultures – Moorish, Romani, Berber, Jewish, Persian, Egyptian – that at one time or another have shared the southern portion of the Iberian Peninsula. Whatever its origins, it remains very much a part of the local scene in Seville, where Vazquez was born and raised . "All the kids, or at least the girls, do a folk dance there called the Sevillana," she said. "It's similar to Flamenco. It's performed at parties and fiestas, and everybody knows how to do it."
Growing up in such an environment, Vazquez decided early on that she would someday be a professional dancer, although she wasn't at all sure she wanted to be a Flamenco dancer. Instead, she had it in mind to study classical ballet. But formal training in classical ballet was not available in Seville in the '80s and early '90s when she was growing up. So instead, she studied Spanish Dance, a genre that contains within it elements of Flamenco. "Ballet was beautiful," she said, "but Flamenco had soul. It took a long time for me to understand it, but at 15, I started getting into it."
After high school, she took a gap year during which she concentrated entirely on dance. "I danced all day long," she said, "from 9:00 AM to 11:00 PM." That meant a four hour class in Spanish Dance in the mornings, two hours of Flamenco training in the afternoons, and company rehearsals for Grupo Ciudad de Sevilla every evening.
Eventually she began teaching it in a studio of her own, which is where her story takes an unexpected turn. Because it was in one of her classes that she met her future husband, Whit Sibley, who as fate would have it just happened to come from a remote and exotic mountain kingdom called Denver, Colorado.
"He was an exchange student at the University and as part of his coursework he had to take a cultural elective," she explained. "So he chose Flamenco. I was his teacher. We went back and forth about where we wanted to live, but we finally chose Denver."
Flamenco has been called a "tripartite art" because it almost always includes a guitarist, a singer, and a dancer. It's also been compared to jazz insofar as each member of the trio is free to improvise and can take the lead at any time during a performance. This requires communication among the artists which is done through a system of signals and gestures which
Vazquez came to understand while performing in Denver.
"It took me a long time to learn how to improvise," she said. "That didn't really happen 'til I came to Denver and started teaching and performing here. I've always loved to dance. You never fully know it. There's always something more to learn. And now Flamenco is the Patrimonio de la Humanidad, a part of the world's cultural heritage."
For more info:
Flamenco Denver www.Flamencodenver.com
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