If you've ever wandered into Crescent Ballroom early on a Saturday evening, you've likely been privy to the bewitching performances of Flamenco Por La Vida. Led by Angelina Ramirez and Carlos Montufar, the group expresses its Latin gypsy soul through sound and dance in the Ballroom's lounge weekly, but on Thursday, November 21 the group will take over the main stage of the Ballroom proper, as part of the multinational flamenco celebration, Lluvia Flamenca.
"Lluvia Flamenca, meaning Flamenco Rain, actually was a production that my first dance director Olivia Rojo, produced in Tucson," explains Ramirez, who founded Flamenco Por La Vida in 2009. Lluvia Flamenca finds Ramirez and her company sharing the stage with like-minded acts like Juncal Street, CBJ Flamenco Ensemble, and Flamenco Del Pueblo Viejo, with membership featuring musical ambassadors from Spain, France, the United States, and Mexico.
"As a company member of Flamenco Y Mas, we danced choreography set by renowned artists as well as performed with guest artists," Rameriez says. "She named it lluvia because her production always showed during monsoon season. When Charlie [Levy, Stateside Presents and Crescent Ballroom owner] asked me to do some kind of flamenco festival, I thought the name would be appropriate. For me it's 'Go big or go home.' So I thought bringing Arizona artists together along with guest artists from all over would be nothing but a storm."
The flamenco roadshow continues the following night in the Old Pueblo, with a performance at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson. The connection, Ramirez says, is natural.
"The southwest US and Mexico in general has a huge history of Spanish ancestry starting in the late 1500s," she says. "Due to that history, people were always exposed to Spanish culture, especially through music and dance. Arizona is the residence of a few world renowned flamenco artists, one being Lydia Torea, who exploded in theater, cinema, and audio recordings as one of the best castanet players ever. Because of artists like Lydia, it made pathways for artists in Arizona to flourish now."
Lluvia Flamenca showcases a robust flamenco scene, one that embraces elements of jazz, rock, and blues. Ramirez says in the last decade the flamenco community has "blossomed," with performers studying in Spain and around the world, then bringing that knowledge back to Arizona.
"Arizona is relativity cheap to live compared to bigger cities and is growing so fast," Ramirez says. "To be an artist in Arizona feels a bit freer and less competitive. Now some of the best artists in the U.S. are in Arizona, mostly in Phoenix and Tucson."
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While our politicians debate the merits of a rail between Tucson and Phoenix, the music of groups like Flamenco Por La Vida has already bridged that section of the Sonoran, drawing both cities closer through a traditional blend of movement and music.
Lluvia Flamenca is scheduled to take place Thursday, November 21, at Crescent Ballroom.