New York concert Debut in 1954. Repeat performance and 1955 concert season.
Upon returning from France and Spain in the fall of 1953, I settled in New York City and began to resume contacts both personal and professional. My husband, Bernard, had stayed in Los Angeles during this period working and supporting my sojourn abroad.
I remained in touch with an agent I knew from an earlier time in the 1940’s and now Kenneth Later had his own agency. I had renewed contact with him prior to setting sail for Europe and he gave me some names before I left. He also suggested I bring him back some leather goods from Spain and gave me money in advance to buy this merchandise. (This I did accomplish while still in Madrid.) Looking back on this episode, it seems in retrospect a bit risky but the entire experience of my lone voyage was a gamble in more ways than one.
I visited friends and relatives in New York City and in some ways I imposed on the kindness of people and got away with it. (Certainly, we were not in a financial position to underwrite either a trip or a concert dance career.) Ken Later arranged for me to be interviewed on Television by Robert Alda (father of the well-known film actor Alan Alda.) I spoke of my adventures in Spain and life in Madrid and it seemed interesting enough.
My husband, Bernard, flew to New York to be with me and pursue the final push to launch my concert appearances. With many recommendations to various people a March 1954 date was arranged at the 92nd street Y (YMHA-YWHA) at the famous Kaufman Auditorium. This venue was a likely choice since the management provided an opportunity to present artists on a 70/30 percentage arrangement. Dr. William Kolodney, the director was impressed with my credentials on the west coast, and set the project in motion. At the time, a well-known dancer by the name of Georgie Taps was contacted as possible help with this endeavor. When we met at his home with his partner, they discouraged the idea of making a debut in New York City. Apparently they had the impression I did not have the necessary ability to carry it off. They were proven wrong as it turned out.
We immediately arranged to contract a guitarist and pianist and I was soon involved with the rehearsals and preparations for my program. It was an ambitious showing of 16 dances and songs, consisting of Spanish folk material of every style I had in my repertoire.
Above all, I had the famous Zapateado del Estampio , which no one had seen. The theater dances of my own creation were effective and with my still young face and figure, my appearance was pleasing.
The pianist was Raymond Sachse, an experienced accompanist for dancers, especially for Spanish music. I was able to contract a Spaniard, Fernando Sirvent, who had an excellent reputation as a flamenco guitarist and had been class guitar accompanist for Estampio. He was a fine-looking man, tall, distinguished and still young. All was in readiness when difficult news arrived. Sirvent was convicted of a felony related to a family matter. He was unable to perform and I was advised to sign an older guitarist who had a substantial career as a dancer and teacher. Juan Martinez. A very pleasant relationship developed between us and subsequently I was able to make my appearance with these two musicians in an authentic manner. What was interesting, was the background of Juan Martinez as a dancer. He had a famous appearance in the company of the great “La Argentina” Antonia Mercé, when he danced opposite her in ” Fandando del Candil” in the past.
In addition, Juan was a very competent flamenco guitarist and I employed him as the accompanist for my flamenco dances in the recording I made for Period Records in 1954. It remains a collector’s item today,
The result of my debut was beyond expectations. The performance was enthusiastically received and when I completed the Zapateado I heard cheering from the balcony. Many dancers had attended and came directly from their own practice and classes and sat up in the cheapest seats. Four dance publications wrote rave reviews about my performance. An outstanding example of the sort of response my work generated was a quote from Dance Magazine by the critic, Walter Sorell. He began his review with the opening line, ” The magnetism of a great performer is felt the minute she enters the stage. Inesita is such a performer”; I was astonished at this, given my natural tendency to be shy and retiring. Although we barely broke even, Dr. Kolodney suggested we repeat the concert in six weeks.
The dance world welcomed me as a dynamic dance discovery. Other publications wrote of my work with high praise. During that interim of one and a half years, my photo was published in the New York Times in the Dance Section and written about by John Martin, a prominent critic in that era. This was a very good credit. Again eight years later after returning from Spain and Europe in 1962 my photograph was again featured on that page. A special event!
One of the dances I performed had not been in my repertoire. My husband had heard a piece of music played by the Compinsky Trio in Los Angeles while I was in Spain, and he was greatly moved by this composition.
He asked me to make a dance to the music which was titled Hehassid by an Israeli composer, Chajes. The music was lovely and had a rhythmic character which I liked and I thought I could fashion a dance to this piece. However, I knew absolutely nothing about Hassidic dance or anything of this part of Jewish life.
We began some research and saw a performance of Hassidic dancers do a sort of folk dance based on a religious theme. I caught the form of it to an extent and this knowledge was augmented by a meeting with Dvora Lapson of Dance News who gave me some ideas about the gestures, movements and general content of the dance.
I experimented and was able in matter of days, produced a choreography which had elements of Spanish technique and still retained the essence of Hassidic feeling.
The result was a unanimous commentary from four dance critics of the New York Dance publications that it was an outstanding feature of my concert!
This actually displeased me as I never considered myself inspired by the religious aspect of the music; only the rhythms it evoked and the melancholy strains in the harmonies. Religious matters or spiritual ideas never entered my mind while making the dance.
I complained that I had only spent a very short time making this dance and my Spanish dances were the labor of many years of practice and study.
So it went. I performed it only a few times and I was relieved to leave it alone although it had served to give an impression that I had a broader approach than other Spanish dancers.
From this initial exposure, I was contracted by Ted Shawn for his Jacob’s Pillow to appear in the opening of the Festival along with representatives of ballet and modern dance artists. Shawn liked to feature an example of each discipline of dance art such as “Ethnic” dance which was my style. I had a guitarist, Julio Prol who was both a flamenco and classic player and I offered a Spanish Bolero number as well as flamenco and theater styles. These performances were reviewed in the newspapers. During the Festival I met Walter Terry, the well-known dance critic at the opening reception given at the beginning of the season.
Following the “Pillow” engagement, I was featured in the Midsummer Dance Festival at the Y. I did eleven dances on the program covering most of my repertoire which I used during that period in New York. The press was mostly favorable, with one caveat from John Martin of the New York Times who thought I was an artist, a wonderful castanet player, a good musician but less convincing as a Spaniard! Eight years later, he wrote that I was a glowing exception to the rule that one must be Spanish to do this kind of dance performance! Despite Martin’s opinion, many dance lovers and aficionados of Flamenco became ardent admirers.
I had an engagement during the summer of 1954 as featured Spanish dancer in the Kansas City Starlight production of Carmen. I performed the Farruca from De Falla’s Three Cornered Hat and La Vida Breve from Falla’s Operetta of the same name. It was successful. Returning from Kansas City, I was contracted for three concerts in the New York area and these were booked in one week in January of 1955. In the winter of 1954 there was a short tour of three concerts in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia which I enjoyed very much because of the warm reception in these communities. On these occasions I only had a pianist whom I met in New York, a young man who was a native of West Virginia. He was excellent with the Spanish repertoire I was using at the time. This experience was very special. The concert agency was the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, although no such entity was part of the engagement, it was a small and respected booking agency. I was offered two other dates when I returned from Europe in 1962. These concerts in Covington, Virginia and in Illinois were received with great enthusiasm. For these performances I had another guitarist from the New York area who was available.
When we finally returned to Los Angeles in April of 1963, I was again contacted by the same concert agency to dance in three solo lecture-concerts in Oklahoma. This time I contracted a guitarist in Los Angeles and the short tour was quite gratifying, The other programs in the Fall of 1962 were equally successful with a guitarist I met in New York during that season. By that time, I presented a totally different program featuring the lecture-performance that I began in England.
However, the previous 1955 season I was still doing a pure concert consisting of a great variety of Spanish dance material. I appeared in a program at the 92nd Y again and at the Brooklyn Academy as well as the Central High School of Needle Trades, a concert venue for a Dance Series in that era. These were all-solo programs with guitarist and pianist. Following that, a summer tour of five weeks was arranged through an agent who booked me with Pryor-Menz concerts for performances throughout the mid-west. These programs were performed with pianist and guitarist. It was grueling work but very well received with fine press notices and enthusiastic audiences. An attraction as a solo dance artist was unprecedented.
At that time, I was asked by three well-known photographers for photo shoots at no cost to me. Ormond Gigli, Walter Strate and Peter Basch all took marvelous pictures of me some of which have surfaced on the Web to this day.
A recording of my Spanish dances with castanets accompanied by Pablo Miguel with whom I had worked with on the West Coast, and my flamenco dances with the guitar collaboration of Juan Martinez was published by Period Records and distributed worldwide. Soon after the recording was issued the LP recording with my photo was prominently displayed in the Sam Goody music store on Broadway. Along with the film work I had done in the early 1940’s and ‘50’s I had a measure of international exposure. Many years later, the recording was still extant and now a collector’s item. An editor’s note designated the disk as “Inesita, one of the great Spanish Flamenco dancers of the 1950’s” A surprise really since I considered that I was a dancer of some reputation and had been recognized and not a world name!
Today, with the Internet, the existence of this disk has generated interest due to its historical background. A company unknown to me has recently digitally re-mastered the original recording made in 1954. Period Records apparently went out of business.
Now this edition is advertised on the Web! It is available to download on iTunes.
This was my second season on the East Coast. It had been preceded by my initial introduction to New York audiences in 1945 with my first engagement at the Havana Madrid on Broadway.
So much of the current performances of the last fifty years has evolved into a totally distinct form. This is inevitable in all the arts. My experience as a performer in this genre covers a number of eras in Spanish dance.