Yaelisa reminisces in ‘Yo. Soy. Flamenca.’

Bay Area flamenco great Yaelisa is doing something for the first time in performances this weekend: looking back.

The San Francisco-born and bred dancer, who appears in the retrospective titled “Yo. Soy. Flamenca.” at the Cowell Theater, calls it a milestone.

“I’m feeling it,” she says. “I hadn’t been thinking about the past so much, I’d been thinking about the future.” She adds, “This came up when I realized I’d been involved in performing for 30 years.”

The show will be “pure flamenco,” she says, including the aspect of the form she (and most audiences) find the most thrilling and unique: improvisation, or “those moments you can’t repeat, you can’t choreograph — like great jazz.”

She’ll be joined by many old friends, including members of her troupe Caminos Flamencos, guest dancers and singers, her husband and musical director Jason “El Rubio” McGuire, and veteran guitarist Keni “El Lebrijano” Parker, whom she’s known since she was a child.

Parker will play a type of flamenco not really in style now, an homage to her upbringing, Yaelisa says, explaining that her mother was Isa Mura, the San Francisco artist who founded the flamenco cafe in North Beach’s Old Spaghetti Factory, which ran from 1959 to the early ‘80s.

Ironically, Yaelisa’s mom didn’t teach her flamenco, even though she was around it all the time when she was little.

“My mom never pushed me. I had other plans for myself. I wasn’t sure that being an artist was the thing for me,” she says, adding that she was taking care of her younger siblings when mom was busy performing at and running the club.

But as a young woman, she “accidentally” took a class with Rosa Montoya, and, Yaelisa says, “She threw me into her company. Suddenly I was performing.”

When she had an out-of-body experience doing a solo, she knew she found her calling.

Then she went to Spain — “you have to go to the source,” she says, to understand how flamenco is a cultural form — where she studied, choreographed and performed for years.

She learned about the regional influences, such as fishing-relating songs coming from the old port town of Cadiz, and how generations of families pass along traditions.

And even though some purists don’t like to talk about it, Yaelisa says flamenco continues to evolve, incorporating influences from Africa, Cuba, India and America – even elements such as hip hop.

With her own longtime troupe, Caminos Flamencos (including dancers she’s worked with for more than 10 years), Yaelisa has been known to experiment as she enjoys the vibrant local scene.

The Bay Area being the center of flamenco in the U.S., Yaelisa has witnessed its incredible growth here in the past 20 years.

And after this week’s very personal celebration, Yaelisa is looking forward to producing smaller shows, and taking a break from performing on the concert stage.

Yo. Soy. Flamenca.
Where: Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.
When: 3 and 8 p.m. Feb. 20, 6 p.m. Feb. 21
Tickets: $25 to $75
Contact: www.caminosflamencos.com; www.fortmason.org/event/yo-soy-flamenca/

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