Yjastros at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Albuquerque, April 4, 2009

by Janet Eigner

In years of watching flamenco, this reviewer hasn’t come upon any company doing the ferociously brilliant group choreography created by Yjastros’s Artistic Director, Joaquin Encinias. To a sold-out audience at the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Disney Journal Auditorium, blood boiled from start to finish.

Each of its eight years Yjastros has performed, out of its base at the National Institute of Flamenco Conservatory in Albuquerque, its pace gets faster as its company consolidates its skills. Yastros consists of 15 dancers, six apprentices and, under the direction of internationally acclaimed guitarist, Chuscales, five musicians. The technical crew, not credited, created skillful and varied lighting. The crisp boldness of the women’s costumes enriched the performance as well.

Percussionist, Hector Aguilar showed skill and deft, unique sounds and rhythms on his cajon and congas and cymbal. When he wasn’t dancing, Encinias played cajon as well. Chuscales’s lyrical, introspective gypsy-classical guitar solos both soothed the soul and made it weep.

The duet of Eva Encinias Sandoval, mother of Joaquin and Marisol, with cantaor Vicente Griego brought chills, realizing that three Encinias generations performed in this concert. Joaquin’s son, Nevarez, along with two other young men, Carlos Menchaca and Carlos Montufar, were given hot, rushing moves and accomplished fine trio work throughout the company choreography.

The fierce unison of the ensemble choreography inhabited every inch of the Cultural Center’s stage. Chest and thigh slapping, foot stomping, Yjastros, like a locomotive, built steam with its verve and zest, taking the audience along on its track of disciplined straight lines, diagonals and curves.

The unlined faces of the two youngest men made up in earnest energy what they lacked in mature looks to partner the twenty-and-thirty-something women dancers. The male dancing will be unbeatable when the dynamic duo acquires the credible duende that comes of living at least a few more years.

Also unique to this concert was the inclusion the Jaleo de Jerez, an 18th and 19th century Spanish dance and its fluid patterns, influenced by the grace and patterns of Italian ballet. Accompanied by two guitarists, a mandolin and cello, six women flowed in satin folk-design dresses, shoed with ballet flats wound round their ankles with ribbon. The dancers followed a fluid, quiet waltz rhythm, with balletic arms and simultaneous swirls, their castanets a chattering accompaniment. They kicked their legs in a loose, knee-bent movement.

In Gretchen Williams’s powerful solo, “Alegrias,” her utter involvement showed in the upward flinging of her arms and the authority of her fluttery flung fingers, moving so fast, they were hardly seeable and extended to her clicking jaws and teeth. The audience responded with shouting, urging, along with the women seated stage-back who clapped and praised. William’s syncopated footwork (tacons) and torso twirls ended with an in-place pirouette, more open and relaxed than the similar balletic movement.

The “Zapateado” involved four women wearing tight black slacks and bolero tops, stomping their long poles, at first a bit rough and out of unison but soon, worked into a powerful group rhythm which changed as it unfolded.

Joaquin’s style–intense and sequential movement explosions followed by striding to a new stage position, catching his breath, and working up to the next hair-flying-thrusting and whirling of limbs, gesticulating with his fists, arms and jaws–somewhat resembles the performance style one of the venerable older artists who performed June of 2008 at the Flamenco Festival Internacional. Joaquin simmers in place like a violent cloudburst, then leans far backwards as he strikes his soles forward. The violent, vibrating toe and heel tacons sound like a vat of deep frying sopapias. You can’t help but feel this artist’s duende.

Marisol’s “Alegrias” with its bata d’cola contained flirty hip action. Four from the company sat with the musicians clapping (palmas) while Vicente Griego sang a lyrical song. The soloist had some trouble managing her train a few times, but recouped her skill, hopping on one foot, the other leg raised at a level that carried the train like a huge flower bouquet. Once Marisol revved her foot strikes to a rapid pace, she carried the audience with her as she playfully wiggled her hips, swirled and kicked her train and pulled it up into the crook of her arm, using it like a rudder as she continued acapella tacons.

Marisol’s feathery finger movements, fast and matching her swirling ruffles, became lyrical to end the work.

Using cane-back wicker chairs, four couples danced a swift, passionate “Paseo a Dos por Cuatro” that involved in-place leaps, squats, sliding onto knees, slow rotations and circles with fingers clicking…an exciting and cleverly choreographed work, featuring simultaneous brief but tremendous foot smacks. Chairs were lifted and pounded to express passion. The women’s quartet performed beautiful turns, foot slaps and quarter turns with thigh slaps. The men followed with similarly handsome movements and a round of boot slapping. The women’s fluid arm thrusts up, with their palms flat to a ferocious rhythm, ended with each couple holding one chair leg and thrusting the chair up while rushing to form a huddle. Wow!

On a bittersweet note, Eva Encinias Sandoval announced that Albuquerque’s Festival Flamenco Internacional’s, now two decades old, is canceled for one year, due to the world economic downturn and the increased difficulty assuring that artists from outside the USA will be allowed travel visas into our country to perform.

Given Yjastros’s skill, consistency and unique large-company choreography, that is it’s American-style contribution which it integrates into traditional flamenco movement–Yjastros deserves to be considered for the post of National Hispanic Cultural Center’s resident flamenco company.

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