Caminos' ‘Solo Flamenco’ goes to heart of the genre

Courtesy photoClassic dance: Yaelisa and Juan Ogalla perform in “Solo Flamenco

For the past three years, Yaelisa, artistic director of Caminos Flamencos, experimented with the traditional flamenco genre by creating choreography to the music of artists such as the Beatles and Stevie Wonder.

But next week at the Marines Memorial Theatre, she returns to her roots with an evening titled “Solo Flamenco.”

“I was making a point and really loved it,” she says. “But this is our 10th anniversary and I just wanted flamenco. No modern or pseudo-flamenco pieces, no mixing of genres, just straight-ahead flamenco.”

The fabric of the form — the singing, costumes and rhythms — is, in fact, a hybrid woven by a society of immigrants. The term “flamenco” is considered to be from the Arabic “fellah mengu,” meaning “peasants without land.”

The dance styles and song structure were greatly influenced by the Moors, and many rhythmic patterns are from Africa. The song standard — the “copla” — is based on poetry composed by Spanish Jews. “And the gypsies of Spain are Indians,” Yaelisa adds. “They brought their music, culture and costuming. You can see some kathak dance in the hand movements.”

A second-generation flamenco artist (her mother was well-known Bay Area singer and dancer Isa Mura), Yaelisa was clearly born to this. But hers is a prodigal tale.

“I grew up around flamenco all my life, but I rebelled against the poverty and struggle of the artistic lifestyle,” she says. “I wanted a normal life.”

It took a performance by the legendary Carmen Amaya to change her heart and mind. “I decided to learn some choreography, and my mother put me in one of her shows, which I did reluctantly,” she says. “But then I got bit … really bad!”

That “bite” sent her off to study in Spain, eventually earning her an international following and an Emmy for her multimedia project “Ensayo” (“Rehearsal”).

For the dancer, the challenge is in the variety of rhythmic styles and musical knowledge required. Like jazz or street dance, it allows for interpretation, inspired by call-and-response with the musicians.

“I pretty much improvise everything,” Yaelisa says. “The singing is where the real in-depth part happens — the response to the cante, or deep song — songs about loss, loneliness, fear. There are the joyous, celebratory ones as well. We’ll be doing all of those in our show.”

Returning for the company’s anniversary will be Spanish guest artists, including dancer Juan Ogalla and singer Manuel de la Malena with Jason “El Rubio” McGuire on guitar.

IF YOU GO

Solo Flamenco

Presented by Caminos Flamencos

Where: Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 2-3, 3 p.m. Dec. 4
Tickets: $20 to $75
Contact: (415) 771-6900, www.marinesmemorialtheater.tix.co

artsDanceentertainmentFine ArtsSan Francisco

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