Walking across her studio's hardwood floors, Savannah Fuentes seems a little awkward, her 5 feet, 11 inches filling the doorways, her heel shoes echoing. But then she begins to dance - intensely, passionately, uncompromisingly. As her black ruffled skirt whips across her long legs, her feet pound an addictive rhythm and the mirrors reflect her curving arms and focused gaze.
Fuentes is a full-time flamenco dancer – a rare thing in the Pacific Northwest – and she’s taking her art to new frontiers in Tacoma, Olympia and beyond, including a tour this week.
“I love flamenco. It’s all I do,” says Fuentes, stopping for breath.
It’s what the Seattle dancer has been doing since she was 17, on and off, and full-time for the last six years studying, teaching and dancing. Olympia has hosted her performances more than a few times, but the Tacoma thing has been more recent. In a city not exactly known for exotic art forms, Fuentes has found a keen audience at, of all places, the New Frontier Lounge, the slightly grungy Dome district bar that opened two years ago. Shows are selling out, despite a higher-than-usual ticket price, and Fuentes is enjoying the dynamic.
“I love getting out of Seattle and into smaller places,” she says. “And I like to do smaller venues. It’s more intimate.”
Which is mostly what flamenco’s about, in a way. The centuries-old Spanish art form encompasses not only solo dance but guitar, percussion and voice, all interweaving through the complex 12-beat rhythm, frenetic fingerwork on guitar, dramatic pauses and heart-breaking melodies. Some is improvised, some structured; all are interdependent.
For her tour this week to Tacoma, Olympia, Bellingham, Seattle and Portland, Fuentes is bringing in four other artists to weave that tapestry with her:
• New Orleans-born guitarist Gerardo Alcala, who honed his craft with the gypsies of Andalucia and regularly tours both the United States and Spain with flamenco soloists.
• Puerto Rican percussionist Enrique Chvez Herrera, who performs and records with various groups in New Mexico;
• Singer Vicente Griego, also from New Mexico.
• Fellow Seattle dancer Veronica Barrera, who dances with Seattle Opera and local flamenco groups.
It’s the intimate musical conversation between musicians, dancers and audience that Fuentes loves about flamenco.
“As artists, we try to impart our emotions to the audience. Flamenco is very sad: It’s about oppression, the history of the Gypsy people in Spain,” says Fuentes, who grew up in Seattle with an Irish mother and Puerto Rican father, but fell in love with flamenco when she heard the distinctive hand-clapping at a dance class. “The singing will make you cry – I cry myself, in rehearsal. So it’s different (in a big venue), you have more space to fill.”
South Sound audiences love it too. Fuentes had a difficult time finding a Tacoma venue that wanted to venture beyond indie rock – “For most of America, flamenco isn’t part of the national psyche,” she says wryly. Then she found Neil Harris, who had already booked contemporary dance acts and arts conversations at New Frontier.
“I thought, no one’s going to want to see that,” recalls Harris. “But after I saw her dance, I was hooked. And the shows have gotten better and better – she always does something a little different.”
The shows have sold out, something of a record for the venue.
“Everyone that saw it was blown away,” Harris says. “It really is a change of pace for Tacoma – you don’t think of Tacoma as a flamenco Mecca. But they’re loving something different.”
It’s gratifying for Fuentes who, since early studies with Ana Montes in Seattle and at the Amor de Dios school in Madrid, has devoted her life to the dance. Between producing her own shows and mothering a 12-year-old, Fuentes continues her studies with renowned Seattle teacher Sara de Luis, learns singing, teaches her own classes up and down the West Coast, and is planning another trip to Spain soon.
She also practices daily in her mirror-walled home studio on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
“I do at least a couple of hours – six would be ideal,” she says of the endless practice with pounding beat track. “The footwork is important – it needs hours and hours and it can always be better, cleaner. Flamenco is a never-ending life.”
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 firstname.lastname@example.org