by Jason Martinez
For the second time, I return home to Tucson with my wife, our hearts full and overwhelmed with all we've experienced this past weekend, in what proved to be a dream realized. Or perhaps it can be better described as a vision, and one shared by many, at that. I change my mind, it was both a dream AND a vision.
Fabian and Katrina Sisneros are dear friends of ours, and like us, are a flamenco family. They graciously included us in the third performance/community event of The Peña of Nuevo México, an organization in Albuquerque founded to encourage flamenco as a way of life, organically grown, and proliferated through the generations. Through their efforts, and with the support of their extended family and friends, it appears that a treasure has been unearthed, revealed more clearly, layer by layer, every time another event takes place. What we experienced at the event Saturday was all at once exciting and humbling.
The day began with a caravan excursion to Abo: an ancient ruin, national park, and the Sisneros family ranch all in one (it's all very complex). The previous days, and right up to that very moment, had been spent in preparation for the two shows we had ahead of us that day, but never mind that.....we were whisked into the 250-year-old home of Fabian's grandparents, where two types of red chile (with pork or ground beef) sat beside a pot of beans in a room of mixing aromas that immediately settled our pre-show nerves. The community dance hall down the road, in Mountainaire, would just have to wait; we were busy piling shredded cheese into our bowls of warm chile and stacking homemade sopapillas next to our meal wherever we could find room on the table. 2-3 bowls later, we walked the grounds of this sacred place and let the blowing wind speak, reminding us to breathe and accept what is.
Next stop: the performance in Mountainaire. The Sisneros, the Montoyas (Katrina's family), and we, the Tucson crew, rushed into the community hall with the sound equipment, garment bags and a mixture of adrenaline and exhaustion I imagine any performer is somewhat familiar with. Before I knew it, I was cramped into a tiny room off to the side of the stage with my fellow artists, all of us practicing our steps and trying not to accidentally smack each other in the process. We then took the stage, sitting on old, well-crafted wooden benches that had clearly been sitting there for quite a while. Perfection. Smiles abounded, both from the performers and the old folks in the audience, as we watched Katrina's niece, Fabian's sister, and a student of his perform a Fandango de Huelva. Katrina, the veteran, later joined them for a buleria, leading this next generation of artists in the choreography. They, themselves will surely be doing the same with the following generation in the years to come.
After our trip back to the city, we stopped for about 30 minutes to catch our breath at Fabian's parents' house in the South Valley, and then on to Por Vida Tattoo, where the event was to take place that evening (it's all very complex). This was Round 2. We practiced the same frenetic ritual, but with extra hands helping out. Sound check, good; chairs in place, good; last minute rehearsal with a pianist, violinist, and whole new group of musicians, good.
The sun had gone down. We all said our own private prayers, knowing full well where we've been and what we've been through. "Just do what you do," I thought to myself. People poured into the seats gradually, steadily, and in good numbers (before, during, and after the performances as it turned out). It was show time. We were all in the moment. Performers fed on the collective support of an audience that seemed to understand this was an opportunity provided to anyone who chose to accept it, as a gift freely given. There was cohesion and excitement. Risks were taken. Students and teachers performed side by side. There was beautiful music and baile. Two sets of good flamenco artistry passed us by, as quickly as we had boarded the vehicles that morning.
The show ended, but the flamenco (and more chile) went on well into the early morning. A group of younger kids with wide, hungry eyes stuck around. The National Institute of Flamenco, Tierra Adentro charter school, and the Public Academy for Performing Arts had obviously been doing their jobs! These were kids with voices, talent, and wisdom which far exceeded any I might have had at their ages. They observed and learned, and their enthusiasm was contagious.
I was blessed to meet these kids and many new people, to see old friends, and to share something with them that isn't always available at the snap of the fingers. I'm ever grateful to my God, and to my friends, Fabian and Katrina Sisneros, for bringing us all together. We were no longer strangers, but soldiers fighting toward one goal: the cultivation of flamenco in the community. What was it Fabian always said? "Art should be in the day to day activities of life." We are seeing this manifest before our very eyes. What could be better than that? It really was a dream realized.