The Heredia Family
Sometime after the first decade of my professional dance experience, two contacts developed out of previous engagements. This is, I believe, an interesting story from my perspective which relates to my ongoing exposure to Flamenco art.
The narrative that unfolds here is an outline of subjective memory about the warm friendship and participation I had with the Heredias, a family of Spanish gypsy heritage.
It is not the purpose of this story to focus on the brilliant guitar artistry of Rene Heredia. It is well documented elsewhere and I acknowledge his celebrity apart from my interest in his personal background as a member of this family.
The various threads of events all leads to the idea of this article.
In 1949, shortly after my marriage to Bernard, an all solo concert of my Spanish Flamenco repertoire of dances was booked into the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles. I was accompanied by a pianist for the stylized Spanish dances I had performed on concert tours and for flamenco by Jeronimo Villarino, a prominent flamenco guitarist who had worked with some of the greats in this art. I had met him in earlier years of my career. The program was long and varied and was well received by press and public.
Subsequently, Villarino and I were contracted at the Orpheum Theater in Downtown Los Angeles for a week’s engagement on the bill with other artists. I had done some Vaudeville “gigs” in previous years in the environs of Los Angeles. This was an attempt to revive the old vaudeville formula of live stage presentations of a bygone era. It never really caught on but it made an interesting episode for those of us who could perform in this environment.
The connection between my genuine flamenco works and the commercial world of show business somehow collided into another area.
In the mid “40’s , as I have related in other posts, I danced as a Spanish dance act in “The New Meet the People”, a legitimate stage presentation which was a revival of a very successful show produced by a group of theatrical showmen. Among them was a gentleman by the name of Edward Elliscu, I performed two solos in the show, one a male Farruca in masculine attire and another dance using a fan and castanets with music by Ernesto Lecuona called Gitanerias. It always made an impression. Both used written music and were accompanied expertly by two experienced pianists. For the public we had at that time, it went over very well. It was frankly theatrical with a Spanish flavor. The long run of 10 months added to my “fame” due to much newspaper coverage at the time.
In the interim I went on tour with Pan- American Concerts over a period of five years. During one of the engagements of several weeks, I worked with Carlos Montoya, also a well-known flamenco guitarist who performed with some of the great dancers of the era and performed later on as a soloist. This brings me to the nub of my tale.
In the early part of 1950, I was contacted by Edward Elliscu, of Meet the People” fame. He and some colleagues were producing a presentation called:” The dancer says—“: The format was a series of programs at the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles with dance artists discussing their dances and the construction of their work. I was one of two personalities along with a choreographer/dancer, Benjamin Zemach. I needed to hire a guitarist as Villarino was not available at the time; Mr. Elliscu had a young son who was taking guitar lessons with Jose Heredia. The elder Heredia recommended his son Enrique, instead. At our meeting, his two sisters, Fatima and Zoraida were included in the arrangement. We spent some time together rehearsing my Alegrias with the girls contributing excellent “palmas “as support to my dancing. The newspapers commented favorably on the program. It was my first foray into speaking in public about my work.
To backtrack in this story, in 1942, (World War II), I appeared in a show with a Latin-American dancer by the name of Ramon Ros, who had a booking at a Las Vegas Hotel called The Last Frontier. He put together a show featuring himself with three other couples in dances such as Rumbas, Sambas, and Tangos. I was his partner in these numbers. In addition, the show also included two solos of my own; one a dance called Claveles Rojos, a composition by Manolo Garcia-Matos, brother of Antonio Triana, the great Spanish dancer of the 1940’s. My other dance offering was the Farruca, which I requested to dance on a table. The staff at the Hotel built me a 3 by 3 foot table. I always considered dancing on a small table “very Spanish” or “muy Flamenco!”
In 1950, I was approached by George Bilson, a producer who knew of my work from The New Meet the People and from my concerts with Pan-American Concerts. He had seen my Farruca performed on the table and the other dances in my repertoire. The film was a featurete to be presented in vaudeville style with Jack Paar as the presenter of the various acts in the movie. Liberace, the popular pianist, was one of the performers. The film was titled Foot Light Varieties.
The rehearsals for the movie, at RKO Studios in Hollywood, took place over several days. The filming was on a set furnished to appear as a living room. My Alegrias accompanied by Enrique Heredia and embellished by the excellent “palmas” of Fatima and Zoriada Heredia gave it the stamp of genuine flamenco.
My dance on the table (the Farruca) was performed with written music (a composition of Manuel Garcia-Matos, brother of Antonio Triana), one of the great flamenco dancers of the 1940’s) was effective because of the confined area I danced.) As most everyone knows, the Hollywood mentality is geared to a mass audience not versed in the esoteric and arcane qualities of Flamenco puro. In the end, the Alegrias was not used in the film but my table dance remained in the final product. I was disappointed as were the Heredias, since we had devoted many hours together getting ready. The still photographs of me wearing the dress I wore for the Alegrias were used over and over in publicity posters, advertising and lobby cards. These exist today as collector’s items and are being sold up to the present moment at online sites such as eBay and Amazon and other outlets. I find it astonishing to know that the public has an interest in this history.
After that, the Heredias became our friends and we visited in our respected homes for dinner and of course much flamenco dancing and singing. Both parents, Mr. and Mrs. Heredia were always gracious to me and my husband. Mr. Heredia worked for a company at the time where his skills in iron work were used. Privately, he fashioned an elaborate lamp in filigree design to which he attached colorful lights giving it a very theatrical atmosphere. This was an advantage as background to a Zambra which Enrique Heredia played on the guitar and I danced the particular form with finger cymbals or Crotalos to an interesting effect. All the family seemed to like it very much.
In later years, I would see Fatima and Zoraida at performances, but we did not socialize as before. I did engage Enrique Heredia as guitarist for me in several of my concerts during the late 1950’s. One at UC Riverside University, two at the Ivar Theater in Hollywood and one in Ogden, Utah with Leo Carrillo. My husband and I happened to see Rene Heredia by chance in Madrid on the Gran Via one evening in 1958 and he was then playing for and rehearsing with Carmen Amaya. We also greeted him at the performance of Manuela Vargas at Royce Hall at UCLA. He was one of her guitarists on the Ed Sullivan Show in years past. I know that one of the sisters, Sarita, played guitar, danced and sang professionally and I met her in Madrid while I was studying with El Estampio. She also was a student of Juan Sanchez (Estampio) and when I introduced myself we embraced. Sadly, I heard she passed away some years ago. Another sister, the youngest, Carmen, also died very young. Rene Heredia continues with his successful concerts in Colorado. Again, I was informed of the death of Enrique some years ago. So many losses of my fellow artists! The tragic rhythm.
This is the story. Flamenco touches our lives and brings us together.
A program featured in this article shows a dedication to me from the Heredia Family. It is written in Spanish and translated to English reads: To Inesita, A great artist of the Spanish Dance; we salute you with all our best wishes, Fondly, The Heredia Family. A lovely tribute!