‘Fiesta Flamenca’ celebrates Pittsburgh’s Spanish folk scene at New Hazlett Theater

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What’s the best way to catch a flamenco dancer? Cast a net.

No, sorry, that’s not right. The best way is to go to the New Hazlett Theater in Allegheny Square on the North Side tonight for Fiesta Flamenca, Pittsburgh’s biannual celebration of Spanish folk music.

It’s a wonderful, whirling experience of the music, singing and dancing that is of gypsy lore, presented by Carolina Loyola-Garcia and Alba Flamenca.

“Alba Flamenca is a performing ensemble that we’ve had here for almost four years,” said Ms. Loyola-Garcia, who is co-founder and director of the group.

Ms. Loyola-Garcia, who is from Chile, came to Pittsburgh to study film and theater at Carnegie Mellon University. That was 17 years ago, and she is still living in Highland Park.

“I have a family here and it’s a very good place for me, full of opportunities and fantastic people,” she said. “But when I first came here, there was no flamenco in the city.

“Flamenco has a long tradition of carrying so many cultures and history within it. It’s very full of feeling and experience, of human joy and suffering. It resonates with people all over the world. There are flamenco scenes in every major city of the world. It’s an important art form to communicate and to share and to educate people because it brings life to so many people. There’s joy and a sense of belonging.”

That would be Cante liviano, the lighter songs. Other forms of flamenco are Cante jondo, which are deep, and Cante medio, which are medium.

The Cante jondo is the music of the sorrowful, longing gypsy, represented in so many presentations.

“That’s the side that is known for it’s imagery,” said guitarist Jon Banuelos, who will be among the performers tonight. “You have the Spanish dancer with castanets and the fan, maybe a red dress. Something bright and passionate.

“It’s also known for a deep heart-breaking sound. It’s hard to say it in one word or two because there are so many emotions. The best equivalent in American music is ‘blues.’ The gypsies are feeling that blues because they don’t fit into any society anywhere, and that’s the way they expressed themselves. With flamenco.”

The proud music of the bullfight, exciting yet sorrowful.

Mr. Banuelos, who lives in Point Breeze, came to Pittsburgh from Tucson, Ariz., more than three years ago, when his girlfriend was accepted at the University of Pittsburgh. He began studying music communication and joined Flamenco Pittsburgh, which changed its name to Alba Flamenca.

He said there’s a reason the music of the gypsies of southern Spain resonates here.

“Pittsburgh’s a very transient town in the sense that there’s a lot of people who come here for school and they leave,” he said.

“Fiesta Flamenca is an opportunity to attract more people to this very interesting art form. It’s unique. When you see it and you get hooked, you get hooked for life.

“It’s important because it’s bringing something that isn’t local to Pittsburgh. This isn’t a large Mexican-American city, there’s not a large Hispanic population. But there is a presence.

This is a different flavor. Flamenco is interesting because it has the history of the Moorish, Jewish and Christian peoples, all coming together from different backgrounds.”

Kind of like Pittsburgh.

“The music is traditional in the sense of singer, guitar, dance and percussion,” Mr. Banuelos said.

“We try to stick to that pure style. We have all those elements in play, but we also improvise. We bring something different to the table. For example, I am originally from Los Angeles, I didn’t grow up in Spain. So I will bring something from my background. Carolina grew up in Chile.”

Also performing tonight will be students from the Wilkins Community Center in Regent Square, where Ms. Loyola-Garcia teaches.

''There will be 12 different numbers, including instrumentals and dance performances with a variety of solos and full ensembles,” she said.

There also will be three guest artists — wind musician Erik Lawrence, singer Phat Man Dee and bellydancer Olivia Kissel.

“People love our shows. They’re just fun,” Ms. Loyola-Garcia said. “It’s a fiesta flamenca, It’s a big party. There’s also food and a cash bar. It’s extremely lively and there’s lots of energy on stage. Serious somber people then — Pow! — fun moments.”

Fiesta Flamenca starts at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 6:30. Admission is $20.

Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com.

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