One of our local treasures here on the north shore of Mexico’ largest lake is La Cochera Cultural, an art, music and education center created out of an old car repair garage. A couple of visionary extranero architects (expats, from Canada) teamed up with local Mexican artists and remodeled it into a space for music dance, art galleries, residences for artists, editing bays for video, screening room for films, and a whirlpool and lap pool thrown in for good measure.
They also had the smarts to hire a brilliant woman to manage it, Emelia Gálvez, a musician, dancer, artist, teacher and damn good fundraiser and administrator. She teamed up with Eleazar “Chuco” Soto, a world-class saxophone player as well as producer, sound engineer and music teacher. All that came together Friday night at the El Cochera Cultural Dance Day Concert featuring Flamenco dancer Leonor Zertuche, modern dancer Víctor Villasana and the jazz band Triologo.
Who knew Flamenco and jazz could work so well together? Zertuche skillfully blended traditional modern jazz movements with the zapateado (sound board on which dancers beat out rhythms with their shoes) dance . She moved and undulated sinuously in modern dance moves and then smoothly transitioned into El Baile flamenco/modern dance , with fast-paced dancing pounding out the rhythm with her shoes (often a 12-beat sound signature) while making precise gestures with her arms and facial expressions as the jazz band moved the melody with and around her.
It was all the more amazing to watch when I thought of the history of the art of Flamenco, which I have seen at La Cochera Cultural as Gálvez is herself a dancer and has brought Spanish Flamenco dancers and musicians to “The Garage”.
The oldest record of flamenco music dates to 1774 in the book Las Cartas Marruecas by José Cadalso. It is a highly technical dance style requiring years of study. The dance is based on the folk music traditions of southern Spain, but has expanded to include contemporary and traditional musical styles typical of southern Spain . Flamenco has spread and is now taught and practiced in Mexico and the US, especially in New Mexico at the University which offers a Flamenco Degree at the Albuquerque campus.
Although it is designated one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity , Flamenco has gone through various “revolutions” that paired it with blues, rock, and Brazilian and Arabic music. Despite all the revolutions and division into different types of Flamenco, the form still demands very precise movement, specific uses of the arms and hands and face, and often props like fans, chairs, and castanets.
While the performance Friday night was a fusion of Mexican jazz, Flamenco, and modern dance, it demanded the same level of skill and adherence to the rigid requirements of Flamenco – something that Zertuche did with ease. She gave us two sets, one more influenced by modern dance and free-ranging jazz, and one more influenced by traditional Flamenco and jazz vocals. It helped that the band – Sofía Ramírez on piano and vocals, Gilbert Ríos on bass, Miguel Soto on drums, and Eleazar “Chuco” Soto on sax – are among Mexico’s best and were able to both follow and lead her through both sets.
She was also joined by modern dancer Victor Villasana who gave two performances of modern jazz dance, and then joined Zertuche for a modern improv dance sketch using props from the audience. They wrapped up by pulling everyone out of their sears for a little jazz-rock dancing led by Villasana wearing a paper-mâché animal head. Such fun!
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