Flamenco a way of life for Los Farruco
MARY ELLEN HUNT
FROM SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
http://www.sfgate.com/performance/article/Flamenco-a-way-of-life-for-Los-Farruco-3881381.php#ixzz27KhzxwTFPHOTO La Farruca is part of the middle generation of a famous flamenco family. Photo: Esteban Abion, Bay Area Flamenco Festival / SF
Stormy, soulful, inspired, extemporaneous and often temperamental, flamenco gitano or gypsy flamenco is considered by some to be the highest form of the art. To see flamenco puro is to experience more than just a performance - it is an entree into a conversation in which the singers, the musicians and the dancers have myriad sentiments and convictions to share - with each other, with us and with a higher power.
"Gypsy flamenco is very much a real transmission of emotion and the culture that they live and breathe," says Nina Menendez, the organizer of the Bay Area Flamenco Festival, which begins Monday.
Slowly vanishingMenendez says that Romany artists explained to her a worry that as flamenco became popular in mainstream Spanish culture, the gitano heritage and ethnic traditions that distinguished the art were slowly vanishing. She envisioned a version of her festival that would focus on flamenco gitano. This year the festival, which travels to Los Angeles as well as New York, features such flamenco luminaries as guitarist Diego del Morao, as well as a film series that highlights contemporary flamenco stars. The culmination, though, will be a one-night-only performance by the Farruco family at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater next Sunday.
Los Farruco - whose patriarch, Antonio Montoya Flores "El Farruco," died in 1997 - are descended from the iconic flamenco guitarist Ramón Montoya and constitute a kind of royalty in flamenco puro circles. Farruco's daughter Rosario Montoya Manzano, "La Farruca," is mother to the tempestuous Farruquito, whose appearance in the Bay Area in 2003 electrified audiences. In 2009 his brother, the ebullient El Farru, appeared with La Farruca and her sister La Faraona and his cousin El Barullo. This time, it is the youngest of the brothers, the 14-year old El Carpeta, who makes his West Coast debut with his mother.
El Carpeta, or Manuel Fernández Montoya, has been dancing since he could stand, it seems. Of the many remarkable personalities in his family, he says, speaking by Skype from Seville with Menendez translating, he feels a special affinity for his grandfather, El Farruco, who passed away when Carpeta was only 4 months old.
It was Farruco who bestowed the curious moniker "Carpeta" on him when he was still an infant. In Spanish, a carpeta is a file folder, or an archive.
'Imitating what I saw'"I'm very proud of the name," he says. "When I was a baby, my grandfather noticed that whenever my brothers were dancing, I would make movements imitating what I saw. My grandfather thought I was able to remember every detail I was exposed to even at a young age."
"I am the keeper of the history of my family," he says, "I remember the details of the oral tradition of my family, the things that have been passed down from my brothers, my grandfather, my mother. I hold on to all of that like an archive."
To his family, it's a birthright that lives in their blood, says his mother. Though flamenco is a living art to them, and while Carpeta might admire pop stars like Michael Jackson, flamenco gitano is not merely a piece of culture, but a lifestyle for the Farrucos. It's a point emphasized by their shows, which retain a certain intimacy even in large theatrical venues. The final jaleo of their performances might find the singers, dancers and musicians sitting casually on the edge of the stage urging each other on in free-wheeling impromptu solo turns that have the feeling of family members hitting the dance floor at a wedding or fiesta.
As a theatrical performer, La Farruca was not much older than Carpeta when she first stepped onstage.
"I began dancing onstage when I was 11," she says, "but really when you grow up in a flamenco family, you dance from the time you're in your mother's womb."
"When I was young, flamenco was such a rich environment, there were so many incredible artists," observes Farruca. "When my father would say let's do a show, I'd be inspired and motivated.
"Now I'm discouraged, because looking at dance scene, there's so much going on that people call flamenco that's really something else. They use the name to market it and because there's a big audience for it, but really it has nothing to do with flamenco.
"Nowadays, people do anything, they could do a 'carrot dance' and call it flamenco," she says, the rough gravel of her voice rising. "No. No. They don't have any cultural connection or understand the spiritual significance. It is a heritage and culture passed down through family. It's all out of context."
Farruca's family has suffered its share of tribulations. After the death of her husband, flamenco singer Juan Fernandez, in 2000, she quit the stage. In 2003 her eldest son was involved in the hit-and-run death of a pedestrian. When La Farruca returned to performing shortly thereafter, her soleas conveyed a deep sorrow.
"When I dance, it's as if I were allowing people read the book of my life," she says, "The solea is the perfect vessel to express what I've been through in my life."
From the heartWhen speaking with Farruca, even through an interpreter, the word one hears repeated often is corazón. To speak from the heart is the commandment of flamenco gitano, which is why improvisation and responding in the moment to the music and singers is central to any performance by the family Farruco.
"This is an expression of who you really are," Farruca declares. "It's not an act that you put on, but an expression of where you're coming from, your whole life, how you've lived, your culture. This is not something you just learn and put on as a show, it's what you're really feeling. You're not acting out an emotion, but expressing feelings you actually have."
For a real treat, go visit http://youtu.be/yhdc_1D3ICA to watch La Farruco and family.