san diego union tribune
A kind of visual poetry . . .
By Marcia Manna
UNION-TRIBUNE COMMUNITY NEWS WRITER
Flamenco is a kind of visual poetry that marries song with stomping footwork, vigorous clapping and graceful hand gestures. Whether light-hearted and sensual or poignantly solemn, it's always dramatic to watch.
Katerina Tomás, who will perform Saturday in Encinitas with guitarist Stephen Dick and percussionist Johnny Sandoval, fell for flamenco the first time she watched a class by gypsy dancer Rosa Montoya. To enhance authenticity, Spanish musicians and singers accompanied the instruction.
“The fervor hit me, and I loved it immediatedly,” Tomás said. “The floor would jump up and down. Rosa was a wonderful fiery artist, and everyone had a great time.”
Tomás and Dick are the founders of the Pasadena-based Mojácar Flamenco, a troupe of dancers, singers and musicians who specialize in the art form. Both Dick and Tomás studied in Spain, are fluent in Spanish and have devoted themselves to flamenco for more than 20 years. They teach as well as perform.
Tomás offers a flamenco dance course at Los Angeles City College, and recently she received a grant from the L.A. Treasures Award Program, a civic support project that funds the work of folk artists.
Learning to dance flamenco requires an understanding of the genre's music and a lot of physical dexterity. “Underlying all of flamenco music and dance is the rhythm,” said Tomás. “We get going with clapping hands and foot stomps. After that, I teach the basics.” The basics, Tomás said, are anchored by posture. The flamenco novice must stand like a matador almost to the point of leaning with shoulders back. The arms accentuate the lyrics and the emotion of the music with elegant gestures over the head and along the sides of the body. “What is challenging about flamenco dance is, while you are doing that upper body work, from the waist down you are doing stomping or footwork sequences,” Tomás said.
The rhythm is emphasized by the dancers' shoes, specially constructed with small nails embedded in the toes and heels. Lyrics play an important role by telling a story. Consider the words of this tientos that reveals the emotion of a broken love affair:Hablo con mi Dios y le digo Ay! que me párece mentira cómo usted me había tratado
(I speak with my God and I say to him that it seems to me a lie how you had treated me)
When Mojácar Flamenco performs, it will showcase original music composed by Dick during one of his visits to Spain. Dick teaches classical guitar, and his compositions are on Mojácar Flamenco's new CD, “Al Que Quiere.” The passion of a flamenco performance demands acute communication; dancers, singers and musicians must be tuned in to each other with ears and eyes. “Johnny and I are always throwing new rhythms at each other,” Dick said. “It's the same thing with Katerina's footwork. In a way, we are all conducting with body language. If she wanted to extend the ending, she would signal with hands, feet or gestures.” The concentrated effort that flamenco demands can be very satisfying to those committed to it. “I'm pretty intense when I perform, said Tomás. “I like to be fierce, and it's a great way to state your mind and put yourself out there. It's wonderful.”
Fiery Flamenco : Local trio's concert to be last Arroyo Heritage Theater production at McKinley Auditorium
Flamenco generally conjures images of ruffled-shirted gypsies, guitarists burning lightning-fast tracks up and down their frets, and dark-haired beauties stomping and twirling in long skirts and castanets. In truth, dancers offer more than just visual accompaniment - their footwork's integral to the percussion driving the music.
For South Pasadena-based Mojácar - performing Saturday for what will be Arroyo Heritage Theater's last production at the PUSD-owned McKinley Auditorium - the footwork of dancer/singer Katerina Tomás not only augments percussionist Fernando Diez's rhythms, it helps shape guitarist/husband Stephen Dick's compositions.
As Dick explains it, they perform two kinds of numbers: traditional formats in which Tomás performs "fully realized" flamenco dances in front of Dick and Diez, and "Mojácar tunes," in which her footwork "is woven in as a percussion [element] and the dynamic is a very intense chamber-trio thing." Those numbers generally begin with Dick basing a composition on standard flamenco form, then taking it to Tomás and Diez for a let's-try-it-this-way "trialogue" in Diez's percussion-filled studio. Each instrument's musical heritage wends its way into the music.
" For 'Felag Mengu,'" Dick says, "I'm playing what's known as a flamenco tango, and under it Fernando is playing an Arabic belidi rhythm - a northern African rhythm. He's playing it on an Egyptian dumbek. It's part of how we create these pieces of music. There's another one in which Fernando is playing a tenaja - just an Arabic clay pot that gets banged on in a certain way. So I compose, but then we create the music together."
Dances are created by Tomás, who'll be joined Saturday by flamenco vocalist La Sole and dancers Sarita and Rocio Ponce. They'll perform a fandango and a fin de fiesta, a show-stopping jam session for musicians and dancers alike.
Before starting Mojácar, Dick was a self-described "intellectual guitarist" writing contemporary music to accompany Tomás' modern dances. When she delved into flamenco dance, he was drawn to the music's visceral aspect, which he likens to acoustic rock (which qualities earned Mojácar positive notices when they opened for Concrete Blonde's 22-city reunion tour last year). It demands high perfectionism, yet allows him freedom to explore emotional as well as more muscular, physical performance terrain.
" This is what gets me about flamenco," he enthuses, "especially once you start getting into it: It's an entire world. There is so much out there. And we see just such a small amount of it here.
Pasadena Star News
Arroyo Heritage Theater presents Mojácar
By Martin S. Gonzalez, Staff Writer
Flamenco, more than any other musical style, is an experience that is best enjoyed live, for both the audience and performers. When the assertive, technically precise but emotionally in tense movements of a Flamenco dancer unite with the intricately melodic rhythms of an acoustic guitar, what evolves is nothing less than musical nirvana.
"I don't even like to practice without live musicians,'' said Flamenco dancer and choreographer Katerina Tomas. "I can't dance to a recording because so much of it is connecting with your musicians and your audience.''
Tomas and her husband, guitarist Stephen Dick, along with percussionist Fernando Diez form the Flamenco ensemble known as Mojácar. The ensemble will be performing an evening of contemporary Flamenco music tomorrow in an Arroyo Heritage Theater production at McKinley Auditorium in Pasadena. The evening will highlight Flamenco solo and ensemble dance works featuring Tomas and guest dancer/singer La Sole, a resident of Covina.
"I'm happy about the opportunity to do a show locally,'' Dick said. The husband and wife team live in South Pasadena, as does Diez. "It'll be nice to per form for friends and family. I'll know half the audience.''
The group is named after Mojácar, a small village on the Spain's Mediterranean coast where Dick and Tomas were artists in residence in 1996 at the Fundación Valparaiso, an artists' retreat in Mojácar.
"There was something special about Mojácar,'' Dick said. Asked to perform at a nearby arts center, Dick and Tomas created eight works in four weeks. The songs became the core of the groups first album, "Naranjas Amargas,'' which they released in 1998 after inviting Diez to join the group.
"We'll be performing songs from the album, and other traditional Flamenco pieces,'' Tomas said. Dick, who has played guitar since the age of 10, was enamored at first with Tomas, and then Flamenco, which she introduced him to soon after they met. "I've explored many other styles on guitar, but Flamenco is the only style that has al lowed me to do things I couldn't do in other forms,'' Dick said. "The music is muscular, intellectual, and sensual in a way I never found in other styles.'' Since forming the group, Mojácar has continued to enjoy growing success. A high point came last year when the ensemble joined a 22-city tour as the opening act for the rock group Concrete Blonde.
"It was such a great time,'' Dick said. "I love rock audiences. One stomp on the stage from Katerina and the audience was yelling and cheering. We're used to quieter audiences in smaller venues.'' "The passion in Flamenco is so extroverted,'' explained Tomas. "You are constantly connected with the audience, with feelings. You can really express yourself, and yet it is extremely technical. As an artist, it is very fulfilling.''
Martin S. Gonzalez can be reached at (626) 962-8811 Ext. 2734 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
By Marcia Martinez
Since 1975, flamenco has experienced a transformation as revolutionary as jazz in the bebop era. As the Franco regime ended, a phenomenon known as La Movida erupted as Spanish artists in all disciplines began exploring new avenues of expression. For flamenco musicians and dancers, this meant fusing flamenco with American jazz, Latin American and African rhythms, and contemporary pop and rock styles. Now there's flamenco/jazz, flamenco/rock -- even flamenco/rap!
Mojácar (http://www.mojacarflamenco.com) represents this flow of ideas the other way across the Atlantic. This L.A. based trio, featuring guitarist Stephen Dick, dancer Katerina Tomás and percussionist Fernando Diez, have merged flamenco music and dance with jazz harmonies and Latin rhythms into a unique sound and performance style. Weaving guitar, percussion and footwork together in tight interplay, they create flamenco with a modern pulse whether they're playing explosive, rhythmic music or intense dance works in the Cante Jondo style.
On Saturday, June 21st, Mojácar will bring their distinctive blend of contemporary flamenco music and dance to the McKinley Auditorium in Pasadena for one night only.
Latin Style magazine described Mojácar's music as " . . . a beautiful and unique sound. Their musical influences are worldwide and they combine them masterfully, making them seem like they were made for each other."
It's this blending of forms and styles that makes Mojácar's music so distinctive. Stephen came to flamenco as a classically trained composer . Katerina was a modern dancer before she began studying flamenco with the great Rosa Montoya. Fernando studied percussion in Africa and Cuba. All three have studied traditional flamenco intensely, but their work in flamenco is always influenced by their talent and experience in other styles.
"Cantan Los Fuegos," a new work that will premiere at the June 21st concert is an example of Mojácar's ability to transform traditional forms. In this work, the group has taken three movements from Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo and set them to a 5/4 rhythm with a flamenco feel. The result is powerful, driving, innovative music and dance.
"La Reina del Cielo," a new dance work also premiering on June 21st, is in the ancient La Caña form. This form calls for a dozen different sections at four different tempos performed in one continuous gesture. Mojácar have recast much of the characteristic music of this ancient form in their unique style while retaining the traditional structure.
For more information, visit Mojácar's website at www.mojacarflamenco.com
Marcia Martinez has been studying and performing flamenco for over five years and is active in L.A. area Latino/a service organizations including Girls Today Women Tomorrow.
Mojácar: Naranjas Amargas (Snowball Records)
Naranjas Amargas (Bitter Oranges) is the debut, all instrumental CD by flamenco jazz trio Mojácar. The CD features ten original works by award-winning composer and guitar virtuoso Stephen Dick. Mojácar combines traditional flamenco sounds, Latin rhythms, African Percussion, and a jazz vibe.
The band is named after an ancient village on Spain's Mediterranean coast. It was during an extended stay at the Fundación Valparaíso, an artist's retreat on the outskirts of Mojácar, that Stephen wrote most of the music for this album. Stephen collaborated with dancer and percussionist Katerina Tomás. Together they created music in which the dancer's footwork became an integral part of the overall sound. The talented percussionist Fernando Diez added rhythms from Spain,Africa, and Latin America to the music's underlying flamenco pulse.
The artists in this trio combine the musical influences that they each bring into the group to create a beautiful and unique sound, Although their musical influences are world wide, they combine them masterfully and make them seem like they were made for each other.
The works on this album range from high energy flamenco jazz to passionate ballads.
Passion and pragmatism
Over the past decade, husband-and-wife team Katerina Tomás and Stephen Dick have figured out how to make passionate music as Mojácar Flamenco and then go home and peacefully make dinner.
Florid reminders of Valentine's Day are all but impossible to escape these days, along with gushing talk of “romance”: where to find it, how to rekindle it, etc.
Romance is far more than an incidental concern, however, for artists who work as well as live together. Creativity is itself a kind of life force, and the channeling of it would seem, on the surface, to be a rather romantic enterprise, particularly if the art form in question is, by Webster's definition, “emotional and mournful.” But talk to dancer Katerina Tomás and guitarist Stephen Dick, a husband and wife who anticipate celebrating their 20th anniversary in September and who comprise the core of the South Pasadena-based ensemble Mojácar Flamenco, and it becomes clear that the composition and presentation of their music, while fulfilling, requires a lot of hard, disciplined work.
“It's this mixture of back-and-forth [negotiation],” Dick explains, “and [asking], ‘Where do you need this piece to go?' ‘Where do you need this piece to go?'”
When Dick and Tomás formed Mojácar Flamenco in 1996, it seemed an unlikely direction for them to take, since both came from decidedly modern musical backgrounds. In 2002, they stepped into the national spotlight while opening for L.A. rock band Concrete Blonde's 22-city reunion tour. Mojácar's profile has risen slowly but steadily since. Dick and Tomás most often perform with a bassist and drummer, Johnny Sandoval, but bring out a troupe of dancers for bigger productions. When not performing, they teach flamenco dance and guitar in South Pasadena.
In October, they received a $5,000 grant from the Spanish Ministry of Culture to underwrite “Cantan Los Fuegos,” a suite choreographed by Tomás and composed by Dick that takes movements from Manuel de Falla's classic dance “El Amor Brujo” and arranges it with elements of flamenco, jazz, ballet and classical music. They performed it in a splashy concert in December at Canoga Park's Madrid Theatre and hope to take that show on tour.
The grant was part of a program to promote understanding and awareness of Spanish culture in the United States. According to Dick, it was the fifth such grant Mojácar has received. While ostensibly preserving flamenco's traditions, the program is also part of an international resurgence of flamenco that's revitalizing the genre.
Rooted in Spain's Andalusia region, flamenco's specific origins are murky, but musicologists generally agree it's been in existence for at least a few centuries, the fruit of a complex fusion of Spanish, Gypsy, African and Moorish cultures. Foot stamps, handclaps, castanets and exhilarated shouts of “Olé!” punctuate dances that accompany the furiously percussive music, which is distinguished by baroque stylings, 12-beat meters and improvised melodies. Its lead instrument is the six-string, nylon-string guitar, which has transcended its original role as background to dancers and singers. Percussion instruments such as tambourine, dumbek and wooden cajón (a modern addition) are also typically employed.
Throughout the 20th century, traditionalists leveled charges of commercialism as solo guitarists like Carlos Montoya, Spanish visionary Paco de Lucía and Ottmar Liebert introduced flamenco to the musical mainstream, while vocalists such as Enrique Morente contemporized flamenco singing. By the 1990s, nuevo flamenco an instrumental format incorporating elements of rock, jazz and world music was being co-opted by the smooth jazz camp, but the past decade ushered in inventive upstarts such as Ojos de Brujo and Los Activos who are modernizing the genre with infusions of folk, funk, reggae, hip-hop and classical music. It's not uncommon now to hear bands described as “flamenco rock” or “flamenco jazz.”
“I love that there are so many kinds of flamenco,” Dick says. “It's like flamenco wakes up hungry every morning and says, ‘What am I going to eat now?' … A friend of mine once told me, ‘As you get older in life you should add pleasures, not subtract them."
Mojácar Flamenco, which Dick generally describes as “flamenco jazz,” is one of the few flamenco groups to regularly play clubs in the L.A. area; Altadena's Coffee Gallery Backstage and Santa Monica's Temple Bar pop up on Mojácar's itinerary several times a year. (They're scheduled to return to the Temple Bar at 9 p.m. on Feb. 23.) L.A.'s flamenco scene, such as it is, revolves around dinner theater performances and individual teachers like Tomás.
Tomás, a dancer and choreographer trained in modern dance and ballet, teaches flamenco dance at Point by Point and in the South Pasadena home studio she shares with Dick, an intellectually curious guitarist who likewise gives flamenco lessons. They sell an instructional CD for dancers, singers and musicians, “Flamenco Básico II: Bulerías,” via their Web site (www.mojacarflamenco.com) and they're planning a companion DVD. (Their recent CD “Al Que Quiere” is also available through their site.)
Dick says they are in the “business plan stages” of launching a facility they'll call Studio Flamenco, “a dance and music studio specifically devoted to flamenco,” that will hopefully be located in Pasadena or South Pas and allow them to bring their students, studies and rehearsals together in one place.
They remain excited by flamenco and inspired by its inherently collaborative nature. They both prefer “ensemble approaches to composition,” explains Dick, whose background is in experimental music.
“Both of us came from this background of collaborative creation, but then finding out how to do it in the context of a relationship how to make art, and then go make dinner [laughs] that took a while. What it takes is going through the cycle often enough to see that the results are going to work.”
Their back-and-forth interplay within what Tomás calls flamenco's “structured improvisation” gets juicier when both players think they're taking the lead role.
“When you're a flamenco dancer, usually you're taught that if you're dancing, you're the one who calls all the shots,” she comments. “But that's not really true at all. The singer might want to sing a little bit longer, or they might bring a verse in at a part you don't expect, or a guitarist might bring in a melody, and you just have to hang out onstage and perform on the spur of the moment with them.”
“Take a soleares,” Dick says. “It has four lines in the verse, and there's accompaniment that fits each of those lines. But the singer might decide to stretch out one line to make it twice as long, and so you have to find a way to support that extended harmony. And the singer's going on a little free and relies on the guitarist to hold the underlying compás, the underlying rhythm, together, so that everything doesn't just fall apart into simple improv. It's the ongoing question in any kind of group improvisation, … but flamenco has managed to bring up all these very, very complex forms that you really have to study over years to understand the possible directions. There are changes and sections that the other performers expect you to be able to work toward and respond to when they signal those things.”
“Sometimes I've been fortunate to be really in the moment and just improvise the whole dance,” Tomás says, “and that really is fun to do. [But] you have to follow the basic structure so your musicians don't just go crazy.”
Inevitably, tensions can arise not just from individual players getting carried away by the romance of the moment, but also from balancing creative partnership with marital roles.
“That's where the passion comes in,” Dick chuckles when asked how they resolve such conflicts.
“It's like modeling clay together,” he says seriously, offering a comparison applicable to relationships in general, whether in or out of the creative arena. “You know what form you're going for, and you react to what each other is putting into it as the piece develops. In a fairly composed piece like the alegrías, it tends not to be very improvised just because it has so many sections. Over a number of years of working on it and just trying different versions, we found the form that works.”
BLISS is a freelance writer and editor based in Sierra Madre. She is the contributing music editor for the Pasadena Weekly.
Artists in Residence
The Lewis Family Playhouse’s Artist in Residence program, sponsored by the Rancho Cucamonga Community Foundation, starts its second phase in March with visits to six Rancho Cucamonga elementary schools. The Artist in Residency program brings artists of various performing arts disciplines to the community to expose teachers, students and the community at large to their art form and to gain a deeper appreciation of the arts. The program also affords the opportunity to promote the rich resources and programs available at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center.
In conjunction with the MainStreet Theatre Company’s production of Ferdinand the Bull, the Mojacar Flamenco duet dynamic dancer Katerina Tomas and virtuoso guitarist Stephen Dick will present six vibrant, fun, and interactive educational programs featuring flamenco rhythms, songs, dances and music.Based on old country songs and dances, the art of flamenco was developed in the “cafes cantantes” (singing cafes) of Southern Spain in the late 19th century. Katerina and Stephen will recreate this wonderful performance event in local classrooms and auditoriums. The school programs will take place from March 9th 20th.
“We’re so grateful to the Rancho Cucamonga Community Foundation for funding this Artist in Residence program. It’s wonderful to be able to offer this special outreach to our schools” says Mireya Hepner, who is coordinating the program for the City. “We think giving the children exposure to this very unique art form will not only enhance their experience when they come to see the play, but I know they’ll also have a lot of fun!”
Dancer/choreographer Katerina Tomás has over 35 years of experience as a dancer and dance teacher. She studied flamenco with Gypsy dancer Rosa Montoya, the Gypsies of Granada and Jerez de la Frontera, and with flamenco modernists Roberto Amaral, Joaquin Grilo, Antonio Canales, and Eva "La Yerbabuena." An exciting, innovative artist, Katerina was awarded seven grants from the Spanish Ministry of Culture for her choreography and research on flamenco, and an L.A. Treasures Award from the City of Los Angeles.
Guitarist and composer Stephen Dick has played and taught flamenco and classical guitar for over 20 years. He studied flamenco guitar in Spain and the U.S. and was a finalist in the Sur Jerez flamenco competition in Jerez, Spain. Stephen is a recent recipient of the L.A. Treasures Award and a multiple American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) award winner. He studied classical guitar at the New England Conservatory of Music and his award-winning compositions for the guitar have been published in the U.S. and Italy.
A classic tale of individuality, Ferdinand the Bull is the story of a bull who doesn't want to fight, he just wants to take care of his beloved flowers. But when the belligerent Duque Dodo comes looking for the toughest bull in all of Spain to fight in Madrid, he mistakenly picks Ferdinand. In this fun and imaginative adaptation, including a pun-ful pig named Cochina who wants to be a star, and the matador Danilo, who really wants to be a flamenco dancer, everyone learns to be true to themselves. In addition to their Artist in Residence outreach offerings, Katerina will be providing flamenco choreography for the production, and Stephen will add to each performance with his guitar accompaniment.
The City of Rancho Cucamonga created the MainStreet Theatre Company in 2006 to provide imaginative productions specifically for children, school groups and families. To date, over 40,000 children and families have attended a production. The MainStreet Theatre Company is the only professional Theatre for Young Audiences Company in the Inland Empire, and the only company in Southern California producing such high quality shows for children as their primary focus.