Janet Riesenfeld, Oscar Tarriba and Jose Fernandez.
In the summer of 1938, Janet Riesenfeld was in Los Angeles staying at her parent’s home rehearsing with her partner Oscar Tarriba in her studio/ garage. Janet was the only daughter of Hugo Riesenfeld. My father, Willy Stahl, violinist, composer, and conductor had worked under the helm of Mr Riesenfeld in the 1920’s in New York when legitimate theaters such as the Rialto, Rivoli and Strand featured live artists on stage during the silent film era.
Janet was a talented young woman six years older than I but very sophisticated for her age. She was a Spanish dancer who went to Spain during the Spanish civil war and wrote a book about her personal experiences and the terrible conditions during the Fascist regime. The book’s title was “Dancer in Madrid”. She performed under the stage name of Raquel Rojas.
I was introduced to her by a family friend after studying about six months with Michael Brigante. She encouraged me at the time. Now two years later she urged me to leave Brigante and study with her friend and teacher Jose Fernandez.
During this period, she asked my mother to be piano accompanist for rehearsals in her garage/studio which contained a small upright piano. In return, she would teach me a dance she had learned in Spain. The title “Las Custiones” a potpourri of flamenco rhythms patched together in hack fashion making a dance-able vehicle in Spanish mode. Janet taught me the steps and within two weeks I absorbed the nuances of the rhythmic changes and style. When I was ready to “perform” it for her she said I “thrilled” her.
An appointment was made for her friend and mentor Jose Fernandez and Tarriba as well to come to the studio and see me dance “Las Custiones”
The reaction was immediately positive, and Jose offered me lessons at the school where he conducted classes. These would be free of charge. There was also discussion of a possible partnership with Fernandez. I thought I was on my way!
Classes were begun. The schedule consisted of two and a half hour classes twice a day throughout the week. Occasionally my Mother was asked to substitute at the piano. This arrangement continued for approximately three months. I learned about six or seven dances and above all the virtuoso playing of the castanets which entailed scoring the musical patterns as an instrument in an orchestra. I recall that my mother put a pair of toy castanets in my Christmas stocking when I was about 10 years old. How prophetic!
After this period, the situation changed. Janet decided to leave Tarriba and asked Jose to be her partner instead. He made the decision to join her and left Los Angeles for Mexico City. I was heartbroken.
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