Poetic Passion

The art of flamenco is an emotional one — its passions can range from serious and formal to spontaneous and happy.

"I can't compare it to any other art form," says bailaora Savannah Fuentes. "It's very poetic."

Fuentes was born in Seattle to parents of Irish and Puerto Rican ancestry, and she grew up in a community of musicians and artists from various cultures. She discovered flamenco when she was in her teens and studied with dancer Ana Montes at her studio in downtown Seattle.

Flamenco is made up of three parts: dancing, singing and guitar accompaniment. Fuentes tours the Northwest with vocalist Jesus Montoya and guitarist Bobby de Sofia.

The trio, Girasoles (or Sunflowers), will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 25, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 717 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. The Jefferson Classical Guitar Society will sponsor the show. Tickets cost $23, $15 for students, $8 for kids and may be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com or by calling 541-261-3811.

"This will be a traditional show," Fuentes says. "I'm not a purist. I like contemporary and modern dance. But this will be pure flamenco, with voice, guitar and dance. No fusion of jazz dance."

Of the more serious dances, Fuentes says that the "mother of all flamenco" is the solea.

"It's a slow 12," she says. "Flamenco rhythms are usually in 12, six and three, while Western music is usually played in four-four time. The happier styles are called alegrias. Those are in 12 time with themes of walking on the beach, sunshine, love and happiness. The style comes from Cadiz on the coast of southern Spain."

The most important component of flamenco is the singing, Fuentes says. She met Montoya in 2009 while working on a show titled "Arte Profundo," at Columbia City Theatre in Seattle.

"Straight-up flamenco singers are born, not trained," Fuentes says. "The world of flamenco isn't that big. You can count the number of flamenco singers in America on one hand. I take singing classes, but the ones I've met who were born with it are amazing."

The guitarist's job is the hardest in flamenco because he has to accompany the singing, the tones and the rhythms of the dance, she says. Guitarist de Sofia began touring last fall with Fuentes and Montoya.

"He's the right person for us," Fuentes says. "He's got a natural, organic feel for my dancing and good energy. I really depend on that good rapport on stage. Bobby plays regularly in tablaos (flamenco clubs) in New York City and Los Angeles. Tablao actually means a slab of wood that a flamenco dancer could perform on."

Flamenco has more of an oral tradition than written history, Fuentes says.

"It used to be more of a thing that families, Gypsies, did in their own homes because they lived in separate communities. In the '20s and '30s, it moved from small clubs to larger theaters. A dancer named La Argentina became known for her creation of the neoclassical style of Spanish dance as a theatrical art."

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