Savannah Fuentes cares about the future of flamenco in the Northwest, and you should too. Fuentes is a Seattle-based dancer who will be bringing her brand of culture-conscious, traditional, and moving flamenco performances to Tacoma on June 8 at The New Frontier Lounge. Fuentes, who has been studying and performing within this art form for the better part of twenty years (with no plans of stopping anytime soon) is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the topic of flamenco.
For those of you who do not know, flamenco is a Spanish style of dance that, according to Fuentes, is fairly “mysterious” when it comes to discovering its exact origins. She says this not with a lack of information, but because she knows enough to understand that the origins are not so simply defined. “We have all this mix happening from the Arabic, and the East Indian, and the Jewish people living there, and then, in about 1000 AD, the Romani people leave India and start their migration and many of them settle in Southern Spain, so it’s kind of like this thing was forming, and then when the Roma people showed up… and met up with these other cultures this thing was born, or reborn.” She says the first flamenco was most likely around 1850, but the culture is much older. The singing, which she says is what most flamenco artists love about flamenco “first and foremost,” is something that for a long time was passed down orally, and was not written. Typical flamenco performances will feature a dancer, a singer, and a guitarist. These performances can be passionate, emotional, thrilling, and as Fuentes said while describing the origin, “mysterious.”
Fuentes, being of Puerto Rican descent has cultivated a vast appreciation for Spanish culture, and says flamenco was something she was drawn to as a teenager. She has visited Spain many times and expects she will go “many more times” to continue to learn more about this art form. That dedication to the heritage of her craft is not unusual, and Fuentes says that it is typical that most artists spend years studying in Spain in order to master their art. When Fuentes became a mother at twenty, a couple years after she began her study of flamenco, the idea of moving to Spain was put on hold. But that is something that for Fuentes, she never felt was entirely necessary for her. “When she got older I was able to go… and then took another break when I was getting her into college, but I went there many times and I liked it and all the great shows and all the great things, but I had the realization that for me personally, and for other people it is what they need, but for me personally, now I can set up my whole life there and I would miss Seattle, to be honest with you. But I still love it and I’m sure I will still go there many more times.”
From speaking with Fuentes, it seems that her love for Seattle and the region is partly intertwined with the idea that there is a crucial education process taking place in the Northwest, which she intends to be a part of. When asked if it is entirely appropriate for a casual audience member to enjoy flamenco with none of the cultural knowledge, or if she believes the two are intrinsically woven together, Fuentes takes a stance, “That’s an important question.” She says, “I want this to come out right, but I do think you should care about the culture. People like to dress up in big outfits and flowers in their hair but we have to remember that all of those things come from a culture, and a culture of oppressed people, and this is what they wore and who they were, so when you put on that outfit; in some ways, I don’t approve of it. I choose not to dress that way, to dress as a Romani woman, I am an American and I choose to take things in my own direction.” Fuentes believes it is best to stay away from anything that could lead to the stereotyping of any culture, but stresses you can express a culture and respect it without exploiting it for entertainment purposes.
While this is far from her first trip to New Frontier Lounge, when asked what she hopes the people of Tacoma will take away from this upcoming performance Fuentes says, “I hope they come with their hearts open and leave with their hearts full.”
“Feria, An Evening of Flamenco” takes place June 8, 8 p.m. at the New Frontier Lounge, 301 E. 25th St. Tickets are: student $15 general $22 VIP reserved seats $35. Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3442848. For more information, call (253) 572-4020 or visit thenewfrontierlounge.com. For more on Fuentes, visit www.savannahf.com.