…I’m sure that I have this passion in my genes from my mother…Her passion is the music, and you can see her eyes illuminated when she is listening to a song that she loves…
Pilar Andújar is a treasure. We are so fortunate to have her in Austin – and I feel especially lucky to have been collaborating with her this year on our FlamencoAustin productions (tickets and information).
As a teenager I saw an unforgettable flamenco show in Granada, Spain. I’ve never forgotten it – and when we started dreaming up FlamencoAustin my hope was that we’d recreate the energy and intensity and richness of that evening I experienced.
Next Thursday, May 16th, the party starts at 6:30! We’ll have free tapas by Spanish master chef Maria Candil, and Spanish wine, but the main attraction will be Pilar. She’s leading a troupe of musicians and dancers – and they’re planning a set from about 6:45 to 7:45. Then we’ll all head into Dell Hall for the US debut of Carlos Piñana’s “Body and Soul”.
I asked Pilar to share a bit with me about her history and her passion for flamenco. Enjoy!
Matthew Hinsley: Tell me about yourself and your relationship to flamenco?
Pilar Andújar: I was born in a very small town called Almoradi in the province of Alicante with just 13,000 people. I’m the fourth of four siblings, my father has a clothes shop called “Andújar” - we all worked together to help his business.
My family knew that dancing was my passion not only from my first recital at 7 years old, but because I was singing and dancing 24 hours a day in my house, in the school, and in the streets!
With my great and passionate teacher “Joseta”, in the dancing school in my little town, I discovered that I didn’t want to go to the university but instead I wanted to go to Madrid to learn more flamenco. My parents supported me from the very beginning of my career, even when I decided to move to Madrid to be a professional flamenco dancer at the age of 17.
As soon as I completed a ballet degree and Superior Spanish Dance degree in Alicante, I traveled to Madrid. I spent all my time studying flamenco - after of my 6-8 hours of training every day I was happy just listening some cante at Amor de Dios.
After just 3 months in Madrid, I was chosen to be a dancer in “The Luisillo Spanish Dance Company”. My first performance was in Paris!!! I was surprised that everything happened so easily because the level of Flamenco in Madrid was very high and I was at a beginner’s level. After only one year living in Madrid, I was the understudy of Maria Pages in Riverdance, and after I continued my career in Flamenco. That fate gave me these opportunities, showed me I had to dedicate my life to Flamenco.
Although the focus of my life was Flamenco, I worked dancing all kind of styles, playing castanets and drums, singing, acting, and creating choreography for actors and dancers. I’ve traveled a lot around the world, and I feel very lucky that I’ve always known what my passion was.
I’ve been dancing and choreographing in The US since 2001 when I worked with the Carlota Santana Flamenco Vivo a Flamenco company from New York. I did 7 tours with them around The US. I came to Austin in May of 2010.
MH: What is the scope of your activities in Austin? How do people see you, learn from, get involved with Austin flamenco?
PA: There’s not a big community of Flamenco in Austin and so that’s been a challenge! In Madrid, when you have a regular show in a “tablao” (venues dedicated exclusively to flamenco), you don’t even need to rehearse before a show. All the artists go straight to the stage because everybody knows Flamenco and can improvise their performances. I’ve been working steadily with my group in Austin, and now I’m very happy with the work that we do.
Similarly with my studio, things started slow – but now I have many wonderful and supportive students. By and large, they don’t want to be professional flamenco dancers, they dance for fun because their lives are already very busy. I do, however, have a group of 15 children from 4 years old to 10 years old… we’ll see if some of them become professional flamenco dancers in the future!
MH: What do you love about flamenco?
PA: On several occasions, I asked myself why I dedicated my entire life (30 years) to Flamenco. Now I’m sure that I have this passion in my genes from my mother. She was singing since she was a child for different events. An advertisement poster said that she was a great and sensitive singing and dancing artist ”Pilarin Grech, delicada estilista de la canción y el baile”. She has numerous photos of herself with different beautiful dresses on stages. Her passion is the music, and you can see her eyes illuminated when she is listening to a song that she loves. She listens to music and immediately starts to dance and sing like as if she were a child.
I could spend hours explaining what Flamenco means to me but probably the first thing is perhaps what everybody likes: the visceral passion. Flamenco is a popular art that is talking about the feelings that we all have in our regular lives and are expressed from the soul.
MH: What do you wish everyone knew about flamenco? Is there something people new to the art form should know when they see and hear it?
PA: I am bothered by the tourist version of flamenco with the sexy girl and the red rose (Carmen of Bizet). This is not at all the real flamenco, so much as a superficial and visual simplification for tourists. Flamenco is an art form that needs many years of preparation to perform and if you want to see authentic artistry, you have to search carefully for the real thing.
I would like that people learn the origins and the cultural history of Flamenco. I think that after that, they will understand why so many talk about this ancient art. I teach more than just dancing in my classes; I try to impart the essence of the cultural significance, and the need to be patient as you learn.
Flamenco is a difficult art because it has more than 100 different styles “Palos” and because it’s transmitted orally. But this is why it is so interesting, and why it’s easy to get addicted: because you never finish learning and discovering new secrets!
I teach regularly at the YMCA at Townlake – so come and take a class! I am also giving some workshops at UT. I’m particularly excited about my next project with Oliver Rajamani at One world Theater this coming September. Keep up with me on my website – and I look forward to seeing you on May 16th at FlamencoAustin!