Flamenco Por La Vida Brings Spanish Flavor to Phoenix Every Week
Head to the Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid and walk a few steps from the center square down one of the cobblestoned streets. Peek into Tablao Flamenco Arco de Cuchillleros, one of the city's premiere flamenco spots. The tables in the intimate venue are filled with tourists, sipping on sangria and snacking on chips as a flamenco troupe -- a singer, a few dancers, and palmeros clapping in time with the music -- keep all eyes glued to the stage. This type of performance is a must-see if you're ever in the area; the traditional flamenco dance that originated in southern Spain has been around for more than 200 years.
Walk by Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix on a Saturday night, and glance inside the window to the lounge. The bar area's tiny stage has been taken over by locals in bright, beautiful garb, with the ladies in long, colorful, ruffled dresses and the men in matching shirts or simple black attire. There's a Spanish guitarist on stage, playing the same rhythms you might hear back in Madrid. And as the troupe begins to sing and dance to the music that's gleaned from gypsy cultures from all over Europe and Asia, Phoenix's own little slice of Madrid comes alive amid the noise of downtown.
That authentic Spanish experience comes courtesy Flamenco Por La Vida, a four-year-old troupe that's made its mark on the Phoenix music scene by performing at festivals and Spanish-infused events. In addition to the Crescent residency they've maintained for nearly a year, the group hosts regular Wednesday-night performances at Gallo Blanco.
"Flamenco Por La Vida, to me, is world-class and fun and creates awe," says Crescent Ballroom owner Charlie Levy. "It forces you to stop what you're doing and pay attention."
Sure, patrons may not have any idea what's being sung; all the lyrics are in Spanish. But the emotion behind the shows is palpable. Dancers Angelina Ramirez and Carlos Montufar stomp and twirl in relation to the melodies and each other, while singer Olivia Rojas belts tunes relating to everything from love and friendship to home and a good meal. It's evident the songs are stories, as Rojas and the dancers take audience members on an impassioned journey that melds heartfelt vocals and dazzling dance moves with the talented live instrumentation.
"People say, 'I have no idea what you're saying, but I can feel it,'" Rojas says. "Flamenco is about community, so whenever I see people asking questions and [feeling] inspired and [wanting] to know more, it makes me feel like we did our job and brought that passion into their lives."
Putting together such cohesive performances requires immense chemistry within the group members, and Ramirez, who also serves as FPLV's founder and artistic director, says she looks for personal compatibility as well as talent when she's incorporating new members into the dance company.
She and Montufar studied flamenco at the National Institute of Flamenco in Albuquerque. Several years after moving back to Arizona (Ramirez is a Tucson native) she started FPLV and her own student company, and is currently the co-owner of 5th Row Dance Studios in Phoenix. She teaches flamenco at the studio, which also features classes in hip-hop, jazz and belly dancing.
When it comes to FPLV's performances, Ramirez insists the troupe keeps them as authentic as possible. The dancers might not always wear the costumes you'd expect, but that's not the important part -- the pure music and dance style means more for the troupe's integrity, and their fiery performances often bring audience members to tears.