Saturday, July 3, 2010

Studying with Manuela Carrasco: June 15-20, 2010

"Wherever you are right now, Ole Manuela!".....
That was how my last entry ended. Who knew that soon I would meet her live, in the flesh!
Manuela Carrasco.
A dream come true, truly.

She is known worldwide as the "Queen of Solea", a queen of pure gypsy flamenco. Carrasco was born in the district of Triana, in Sevilla, Spain, where generations of gypsies lived and cultivated their unique art of flamenco through the centuries. Manuela Carrasco, however, was never formally schooled in flamenco. Like many purists, she learned from watching and living the art of flamenco through her family, and was recognized early on for her unique, emotive style of dancing.

Upon hearing that Manuela would be visiting and teaching in the United States (something she has not done since the 1980's),  a stupendous excitement ran through my veins and my wild heart.  Here was a woman who has dedicated her life to commanding the stage, bringing people to tears with her artistry, yet she is a family woman, somebody's next-door neighbor in a bustling gypsy neighborhood. Yet here she was about to share a piece of her own unbridled passion with a few excitable flamencas in San Francisco.

The week started off with a performance at U.C. Berkley's Zellerbach Hall. It was my first time seeing Manuela dance live, along with the authentic El Torombo and Rafael de Carmen. Manuela's husband, guitar legend, Joaquin Amador, unleashed the music, while their gorgeous daughter Samara, sang alongside the group. Tears were shed, jaws dropped, sighs could be heard across the hall.  It could not get more intense than this. This woman gives herself  'completely',  heart and soul, to her audience. The following five days consisted of the 'solea' workshop (Manuela's signature style), which started with a bang. Students came from different technical levels, but everybody was there to try and absorb even a tiny bit of Manuela's "aire", more so than to learn fancy footwork. Manuela, in her gypsy 'calo' Spanish and cigarette-coarsened voice repeatedly declared that "artists don't count their steps, they just feel the music".  If there was any frustration over not being able to learn steps correctly due to this, it was overshadowed by all the attention each individual received from this grande maestra. She made her rounds by adjusting our arms and hands, sometimes forcefully, but nothing was taken offensively.  It was like respecting a lion or tigress, a strong and threatening creature, yet extremely beautiful and graceful in spirit.

The workshop ended with hugs, kisses, compliments, and blessings. Each student took away exactly what they wanted to, whether it was one thunderous llamada, or exquisite marcajes, or simply how to lift your chest and walk as if you own the stage because sometimes what you have to give is "everything that pours out from your heart".

Could not have asked for a better way to spend a week in San Francisco!

Above: Mariette, Joaquin Amador, Samara Carrasco, Manuela Carrasco

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