Filmed by Tina Love March 18, 2017
Filmed by Tina Love March 18, 2017
What is Flamenco?
Having spent decades as a performer in this unique dance form, I offer a perspective on its essence. The word flamenco is an odd choice to designate an art which is distinctly Spanish and more specifically of Andalucía . There have been a number of explanations why a word which means Flemish in Spanish is associated with the form of dance, music, and song recognized as the exciting, flamboyant, mysterious display of technical skill it is.
One example given is the elaborate dress of Flemish courtiers during the reign of Carlos I. It was adopted and connected with the Andalusian Gypsies during this era. However this came about, it is now ingrained in the public perception.
The true name of flamenco art is: Cante Jondo: Deep or profound song. I have often heard “En España el cante viene primero”. “In Spain the song comes first” It is a truth that the dancer does not interpret the words or letras of the song; again the performance is not literal but non-verbal. in a musical sense, the guitarist’s chords which are used to accompany singing are the basis for the tunes or melodies (falsetas) which develop from the chord structure. The rhythms or compas which are attached to the melodies drive the work. Moreover, flamenco is not Western music but Eastern in origin. As such, Eastern scales tend to have a falling cadence. The tones are close together creating dissonance and ambiguity. This presents a mournful and melancholy feeling, whereas Western musical tones have a tendency to rise and has a different impression.
Without question much has evolved over many decades. The incorporation of different chords such as jazz and other musical influences have changed the texture of performance and the entire presentation of what is seen today. Some are displeased with this but as in everything else in culture, whether language, fashion, life styles or advances in all manifestations of art, new ideas are presented. Forward thinking is inevitable. I personally have altered my material as the years pass to bring it into the present.
Flamenco has always possessed a strong tradition and a rich vocabulary. Out of this material, develop interpretation and much variation. The dance has a character not duplicated in any other dance style. Unlike other techniques the dance turns in upon itself and is held taut to the body. A kind of stillness which can be eloquent is part of the language of forms. This explains why one can perform movements in a very small space and still convey feeling. The tensions, kinetic urgency, and focus, are central to the form. Articulation, attack and nuance, all attributes one expects in a musical performance. Each performer colors this with his or her own personality.
Above all, flamenco is a musical art. Because of the methodology in the system and the reality that it is an unwritten, open-ended form, the dancer functions as a musician to conduct and ring the changes from one variation to the next. We know the guitarists gaze never leaves the dancer. The feet making intricate patterns, arms accenting movement, all is rhythm which dominates throughout a performance. The cantaor (singer) too, must obey the force of the compás. And the guitarist is watchful throughout. The collaboration and interplay of the elements of song, guitar and dance is demanding, not to mention the addition of hand clapping or palmas and other percussion added to the score. Since all is non-verbal and without notation, it creates the power we see and accounts for its popularity today as never before.
Without rhythm there is no music, therefore it is mathematical. Flamenco is organic. The end of one variation opens the door on the next into infinitude.
Those four little pieces of wood! How mysterious and secret they are to anyone who has never held them in their hands! At the first sound of their sonorous peal, there is a fascination not felt with any other percussive instrument. It is difficult to fathom how they convey such power!
At first, the uninitiated places them on the middle finger of the hand and rattles them to try to understand how they can achieve that special quality.
Very often, someone will try to learn in a very short time. It can’t be done.
The minute movements of the fingers have a special action which requires concentrated study and fierce focus to learn.
There are dances in Northern Spain in which dancers of Aragon, Castile, and Navarre and other provinces of the Iberian Peninsula use the castanets on the middle finger and a resounding clap is produced in a quite different technique. And it is surprisingly effective for the demands of this kind of vocabulary and music.
But the Andalusian , the virtuoso, attaches the cords of the castanets on the thumb where it is anchored in a double loop freeing the four fingers of the right hand to operate and slide over In succession from the small finger to each in turn to make a roll.The right hand performs the roll and the left maintains the beat with only the middle finger. This has to be reversed in the case of a left-handed player! I should mention that the instruments are tuned so the bass, macho (left hand) is one third of a tone lower. The right hand (hembra) has the higher voice. Coordination between the two hands is achieved with much practice.
Herein lies difficulty to train ligaments and tendons of the hand to play upon the open castanet. But this is function and not yet art.
I began the study of these small miracles at age 14. These were the first lessons. The effort of beginning to manipulate them took several weeks. Gradually, the ability to play a rhythm in a simple 4/4 or 3/4 count becomes a part of the brain and one proceeds to the next stage.
Now the arms must move with the music and in time and castanets become an accompaniment.
Castanets (palillos) have a well known history extending back to Ancient Greece and Egypt. So I won’t elaborate on the subject. There is a fascinating bronze from this early period of a buffoon dwarf dancing with castanets!
In a previous post, I related my early experience and study with a teacher who had a fine castanet technique and I learned a great deal. After time I was able to handle their role with confidence. Learning to dance, move the arms and master the complicated and sophisticated vocabulary of Spanish dance was not easy, but being young it was possible and after a year of using plastic castanets I acquired a fine pair of professional castanets and moved to the next level. When I was offered a chance to study with José Fernandez at no cost, I was overjoyed to be given this opportunity to learn an approach that I had not anticipated before. Castanets must be scored as an instrument to function as another voice in the musical matrix. It is more than underlining the rhythm but carving out a part of their own as an element of the whole.
My castanets playing made such an impression, that a friend and mentor, Raquel Rojas, the dancer, actress and writer who encouraged me in my earliest endeavors wanted to borrow my palillos to use in an engagement!! I was flattered and stunned that my castanets would now perform in effect on their own in another’s hands! The rich history of the castanets in the career of Antonia Mercé, La Argentina, and her superb mastery of the castanets as a real musical instrument is well known. I was honored to have the opportunity to record my castanet playing with piano accompaniment on Period Records in 1954 when I was concertizing on the East Coast. I dedicated the disk to Antonia Mercé’s memory. The music I selected for the assignment was based on some compositions by Albeniz, Turina, Malats, and Valverde. These dances were specialties of Antonia Mercé. I had learned these works from my first teachers and had perfected them to the point of performing them in earlier appearances. Essentially they were theater or stylized dances which lent themselves well to a castanet score. The Escuela Bolera (School Dance) always featured castanets. They were the true “classic” fundamentals of the Spanish dance. The vinyl disk was advertised as INESITA and distributed all over the world. It was prominently displayed in Sam Goody’s, a well known music store on Broadway!
Strangely, the management of the Record Company issued the flamenco repertoire on side one which I recorded with Juan Martinez as guitarist for the flamenco dances. Perhaps they perceived the flamenco as more appealing to the general public. I considered the castanets superior to the flamenco work at the time, but had no control over the release of the material.
Juan Martinez was a dancer as well as a competent guitarist who appeared with La Argentina during her tours. This is mostly forgotten history!
Flamenco dance, song and guitar music does not usually lend itself well to castanet playing as the use of palmas, pitos and the cajon dominate the performances. The rhythms contain a rich tapestry of off-beating and crossing tempos which are best manifested in complicated hand clapping and heel beats. Flamenco has a distinct construction which stems from the song forms and demands an aesthetic contrary to written music. The composers of Spain offered great beauty of harmonies as well as rhythmic qualities in an impressionistic manner. Flamenco as an earthy form has a tension not found in the formal music of these composers. Nevertheless their scope has attributes lacking in “cante jondo “. The complexity of the flamenco idiom is astonishing and the past is swallowed up in new ideas and I regard it as natural. Everything evolves. Originally, the castanets were a feminine aspect and male dancers frequently ignored them. Nevertheless, there are many fine castanet players among male artists today and I applaud this. The gitanos, tended to regard castanets as associated with the aristocracy. So their use was avoided in favor of the more spectacular display of hand clapping and finger snapping at which they excelled. I also discovered that in the Domenico Scarlatti Sonatas of which I have written, the music is so rich that most of this music needs no percussive addition.
In my view, castanets are very special. They can shout or whisper; murmur and speak to us in a language all their own. Palillos! Like nothing else!
Flamenco Alhambra March 18, 2017
All is in readiness.
Practice and planning, rehearsals, lists, the moment is drawing near. Anxiety, anticipation, exhilaration.
Bill Yee is finishing his introductory remarks. He commands the audience to shout Ole three times. They obey. The mind focused. The curtain opens.
I sit straight in the chair, Stamen at my right. I begin the castanet’s dry commentary and the guitars follow. I rise slowly from the chair which has been draped in a black mantilla from some long forgotten past and move into the dance. The music is over-amplified and there is distortion. As the initial falseta resolves into the ending remate, Clarita bursts into the first verse of the song and we dance, the three of us La nubia, Jani, and I. We move together into the heart of the Fandango. It finishes as the curtain slowly closes while the dance goes on.
Back to the dressing room to change quickly as if in a dream and the program goes inexorably on. I wait in the wings and we are thrust into Alegrias as if into another realm. One variation into another interspersed with song piercing the music and finally into the naked pulse of the rhythm. The momentum continues until the wild tempo of Bulerias hits the climax and I exit into the wings. I change and I am another character in the parade of dances.
Interrmission, and a breath of rest.
Half done. I sit at the piano. Calmer now as I play to accompany the guitars. Sevillana, Solea. Clarita joins us and she plays her castanets as the vivid Panaderos de la Flamenca enlivens the music and the percussive chords and arpeggios of this most Spanish of dances.
Time moves and we dwell in the last of this journey. The sober Farruca I dance is a foreshadowing of what is to come. At last, I don the black falda with the cola, the accessories and the manton, the red corals for my ears, the russet high “peineta” a long ago gift from my friend Margarita Silva, opera star of the 1920’s. I am ready.
The curtain parts again and I begin marking of the Seguiriya compas. Guitars join in and I turn my body to beat an obligato on arms and hips to send the rhythm forward. I signal for the Martinete and the anvil responds to the hypnotic insistent sound of time. Clarita sings Martinete from the depths of her being of endless sorrow. From that comes an answer. The compas is transferred to the feet as they make a dance that repeats the feeling in the song. We are locked into the rhythm and cannot escape. The dance moves into the second verse of the Seguiriya and reaches the heart. I lean back as if in a vise of tension. At last the ending approaches. I beat out with my feet an answer. The rhythm adventures into a labyrinth of conflicting emphasis and finally works through to the steady, ruthless stamps to climax and stops abruptly in stillness. The castanets begin the compas and the anvil strikes. Clarita begins the wail and howl of the “tona”. I rotate in place winding in the dress as it wraps my legs in a tight embrace. The song and anvil continues in an endless chain. The curtain slowly closes. Done!
All that remains now is to dance and frolic at last to chase the melancholy and tragic mood with the Dionysian wildness of Bulerias!
The Curtain is closed. Over.
Dromena; the thing done. The ancient Greek word for drama. The action in the dance is drama. Now the world is reborn in the Spring!
The curtain will open again. I promise.
After a lifetime in the entertainment world, in every possible venue from “joints” to the concert halls of Europe and United States, there is a long chapter related to my ongoing performing experience.
Following the death of my husband in 1999, I was alone. And on my own. I remained devoted and dedicated to dance and music. The particular significant forms of the Spanish dance idiom are inspiring and I never tired of exploring the music and endless possibilities for expression. This is not to say “self expression”. The presentational character of this form of music, dance and song shows deep feelings which are called up from within and reveal new aspects in a constant stream of experience.
Sometime later, I decided to take a chance and call a musician friend, Patrick Lindley, with whom I had the pleasure of working in a concert in 1988. That was an occasion at California State University at Los Angeles where he taught on the faculty. Lindley is a marvelous harpsichordist and pianist as well as a gifted composer. I left a message on his phone telling him of Bernard’s passing asking him to call if he wished. He responded soon after, and we talked. I told him of my continued work with the Scarlatti dances and invited him to come to my home to see my work. We had a very nice visit. When I showed four of my new dances he was wildly enthusiastic. With this reaction, I took courage and asked him about the Harpsichord Center and the obvious connection to the Harpsichord and Baroque music. He took this suggestion and said he would speak to the director of the Southern California Baroque Association, Wm. Neil Roberts.
Some weeks later I heard from Patrick. He told me that the Association wanted some of my photos. (I guessed they were in doubt about my appearance given the longevity of my dance career.) I quickly sent some color shots taken by a student of mine not long before which actually were quite good.
However, months passed and I thought the matter was dropped.
I called Patrick once more and was elated to hear that the Association would present me in 2001 in two concerts!! Why wasn’t I notified? Perhaps they wanted to reserve the right to cancel. This seemed strange.
It was an enormous lift to my spirits and I danced for joy around the room! Of course, it was far off (this was in 2000, several months after Bernard died). I had negotiated a prestigious engagement by my own strength and a chance to renew my dance career!
During this time, I was rehearsing with Stamen Wetzel, a gifted guitarist I had known for years. We renewed our friendship and I practiced with him for months. The program I presented for the Harpsichord Center featured the Scarlatti material accompanied on the harpsichord by Patrick. I did not want to include flamenco at the time as it seemed irrelevant. (In a return engagement in 2005 I did feature two flamenco dances with guitar to bring out the relationship of Scarlatti’s music to the Andalusian forms.)
The concerts of 2001 were sold out. The venues at the Brentwood Contrapuntal Recital Hall and the Church in Pasadena were very well attended. In the whole time spent preparing for the performances no mention of compensation was offered. No contract, no conversation, no handshake to finalize the agreement between us. Towards the fall of 2000 I did receive a Brochure from the Southern California Baroque Association with my pictures and mention of my coming concerts. (Patrick informed me they wanted to have some new photos.) I had some professional photographs made in early January of 2000.
In May of 2001 the two programs were received with marvelous comments and I was satisfied that artistically it had evolved into another phase of my life work. There was a reception afterwards at the Brentwood Contrapuntal Recital Hall where the Association gave their concert series. Neil Roberts handed me a small piece of paper right there which was a $500 Check! I was astonished they were so non-communicative about the entire situation. This represented a triumph for the art and business matters.
In 2002 I was introduced to a lady who conducted interesting salons at her magnificent home in Pasadena. These presentations were lectures of various topics offered to a discriminating public. The contact was arranged through my long time student Miguel Bernal who knew of the lecture material my husband and I worked on. He rightly guessed that this kind of presentation would appeal to Carol Soucek King, the founder of this organization, The Institute of Philosophy & the Arts. When I met her at one of the Salons, and said one word- “metaphor” she immediately offered me a date to present my program.
It was extremely successful as a lecture-demonstration in full costume and accompanied by Stamen on the guitar. I performed several dances on my small three by three feet oak floor set in the large living room. There was no monetary compensation for my work, but several repercussions of value came out of the event.
Following the first Scarlatti concerts I became interested in learning to play the Harpsichord myself. (I had been classically trained on the piano from age five and studied that instrument for ten years.) I acquired a small spinet, a modest instrument and persuaded Neil Roberts to tutor me. I spent eight wonderful years learning the niceties of this instrument which has enriched my life and artistic vision. Neil Roberts passed away in 2011. It was a great loss. A few years into my study, I traded in the tiny spinet for a small Flemish single harpsichord with three registers which has more musical quality.
My story continues with an appearance again on stage. Miguel Bernal, who had spent close to ten years studying with me since age 14, asked me to be invited guest at a popular Flamenco restaurant in Carlsbad near San Diego where he was performing. I made two appearances at the Casa Sevilla doing Alegrias in the November show and Farruca and my Solea in a New Years’ gig at the end of 2002. It was an exciting end to this period.
Following this restaurant show, I heard from a former student of mine, Coral, who had formed a company in Las Vegas where she lived. She was planning a concert with her troupe and asked if I was interested in appearing as Guest Artist. Included in the contract were workshops of the Escuela Bolera to train for the performance of a selected pair of Escuela Bolera dances. We agreed and confirmed a fee and date. It was decided to use Seguidillas Manchegas and the Boleras Sevillanas. I flew to Las Vegas in November of 2003 and spent a weekend as a guest in Coral’s home. I conducted some classes in the Escuela dances and was able to train several dancers in the troupe to do the steps. Coral wanted me to perform my Scarlatti dances as she knew a pianist who was skilled at Harpsichord, Cynthia Harris. Cynthia came to Los Angeles to rehearse with me on the two Scarlatti Sonatas I chose to perform. She was excellent. I flew again to Vegas in January of 2004 and spent days rehearsing with the troupe, the guitarist and Cynthia. It was a pleasant experience. Coral was very fair to me and I was able to realize several hundred dollars out of it and a video. Though not professional, this served as a record of the dances I did. I also performed a Solea with guitar and some Bulerias cambios in the final scene. The members of Coral’s company were extremely gracious and respectful to me and my dance. A fine comment of my work appeared in a review by a critic in a Las Vegas show business publication.
In the previous year of 2001 I did visit Tucson, Arizona and spent a few days with my first cousin, Walter Parnes who arranged for me to dance at a Private Club with a guitarist he sent for from Scottsdale. This experience turned out rather disappointing as a video was made but inadvertently destroyed. The audience was enthusiastic and the guitarist impressed with “my power”.
I also did a party appearance for a friend in Encino as a favor and for this I asked a fee for the guitarist (Stamen Wetzel) and requested a donation. I wanted to stay in the “loop”.
In the months following the Las Vegas gig, Neil Roberts asked me to do a return engagement for SBCA and a date was set for February 2005.
At a lecture-performance of a keyboardist, at the Harpsichord Center in December of 2004, I met a lady, by the name of Mary Hannon who published a Newsletter for pianists and keyboardists titled PianoForte. We had an interesting conversation about my Scarlatti dances and the upcoming engagement with the Harpsichord center. She attended my concert in February of 2005 at the Art Center in Eagle Rock presented again by the SCBA and it was very well received. This time I had in addition to Patrick Lindley the guitar accompaniment of Stamen for two flamenco dances, the Solea and the Estampio Zapateado. Both performances were well attended. I was given $1200 to cover my fee and expenses. It was fair and this return engagement was another success. Mary Hannon interviewed me for her Piano Forte Newsletter and it appeared later in an issue of 2005. The article was a discussion of my work with the Scarlatti Sonatas as dance material and my studies on the Harpsichord.
The next four years were fallow. I was rehearsing often with Stamen and colleagues and I was in contact with other guitarists and a singer, Miguel de Malaga, with whom I had worked in past years. During 2002, I called a dancer/actress friend I knew for years and she put me in touch with an acquaintance who helped me learn to use a computer. I had desired to own a computer and the knowledge to use it for professional reasons. I met with him and with his advice acquired a laptop and spent months learning a new language. My involvement with the Internet resulted in my own Website online and the ability to research important topics related to my profession. With this help I was able to organize and edit at last all the flamenco material Bernard and I worked on during the 1960’s and beyond concerning the structure and form of flamenco. In addition, the laptop gave me a tool to use the Internet for contacts and promotion.
Those years from 2005 to 2009 were productive but I missed performing in public. In late 2008, I was contacted by a friend of mine who asked if I would be interested in appearing in a flamenco attraction she was producing for an organization in Alhambra. A concert series had been established in 2006 by William Yee who had an artistic background as well as business experience. I expressed interest and we went ahead. The focus of the presentation was to be the dancer and singer Yvette Garcia and her group. Also engaged was a modern and ballet dancer, Albertossy Espinoza who had some training in Spanish dance. Yvette had her guitarist plus her husband who did sing flamenco. I engaged Stamen to play for me and it was agreed that each artist was to receive an honorarium of $130.
It was a lot of planning and labor to produce this event, but finally we put on the show and it was a rousing success to our great surprise. The hall of 200 seats was packed and everyone was pleased I had a “following”. At the end of the program it was arranged to have the entire cast dance into the audience. I was immediately surrounded by a number of friends and fans some of whom I did not know but appeared to remember me from years ago.
This venture encouraged Mary Hannon who had developed an interest in my work. Soon she approached Stamen and me to present a program which she would sponsor in a modest way. Meanwhile, she had met a pianist, Neil Galanter, a brilliant musician who specialized in Spanish music and Mary arranged for us to meet in my studio and see some of my work with Stamen. At last a suitable venue was found at a Woman’s Club in South Pasadena. A date was set for a concert with the pianist, Neil Galanter, Stamen, and a guitarist friend of Neil’s who played in a classical style. I included some of the stylized dances in my repertoire. Employing a pianist for the first time since 1963, added a different format.
First, we did a program for the Club itself and were paid a small fee. About two week later an afternoon program was performed with a more elaborate performance and surprisingly we drew good attendance and made a bit of money. On the side, I contacted Bill Yee of the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. I had invited Mary to attend a flamenco concert by another dancer who was very good. This was also produced by my student and they had about half a house. During intermission, Mr. Yee approached me and spoke of my “fame” and asked me to email him. I subsequently did this with the idea to ask if he would present us. Bill spoke to me of his interest in presenting me as the headliner and as “Flamenco diva”.
After much discussion I decided to take Bill Yee’s offer and appear in my one woman show. A date was agreed upon for September 18, 2010, and I performed with Stamen and Benjamin, another guitarist friend of many years and the cantaor, Miguel de Malaga. We had a successful program with about half a house and I made expenses and a bit over. This helped to boost my reputation due to the Internet which picks up every morsel of data about everyone. There seemed to be no end to the stream of information that was generated by these last three appearances. I performed seven dances and the guitarists played duets and Miguel a song solo. The audience gave us an ovation. A resulting follow-up was a Lester Horton Life Time Achievement Award presented by the Dance Resource Center.
In 2011, Mary Hannon offered to present Neil Galanter, Ryan, the young guitarist friend of Neil’s, Miguel de Malaga, Stamen and Benjamin with me. A small theater was rented, the Secret Rose in North Hollywood, and I agreed to take equal billing to Neil under the circumstances. We had a full house. It was a loss financially for me but the concert was a success. The proceeds were split between Neil and me.
With this flurry of exposure, I renewed contact with Bill Yee, and he was eager to set up a sequel to the original “Flamenco Alhambra” in 2012. (He had followed up his email to me directly after the solo program in 2010 suggesting I invite other dancers to present a company with my role as dancer/producer.) I agreed to this idea and finally recruited a cast of 12 to present in 2012. This entailed a great deal of work apart from dancing, but in the end, we had a full house, and a smooth performance. It was my first foray into organizing a Company, but it worked rather well, despite it being my first attempt.
After this success, Bill projected another Flamenco Alhambra, and the 2013 version was accomplished not without some worry and the sad and sudden passing of our flamenco cantaor, Miguel de Malaga. This time, Bill advertised free admission with “Donations accepted” and the hall was overflowing! It was such an attraction that people were turned away with standing room only. During the rehearsal and the actual show, we were being photographed by a young photo-journalist who asked to shoot the activities. His name was Jaime Zapata from Bogota, Colombia. He was a student at El Camino College in Southern California. This project was a class assignment for photo-journalism and he was looking for “an interesting person” as a subject to use in the assignment. He spent about ten hours at the venue in Alhambra taking over 100 pictures of our preparations and the dancing. It was very well done.
Another program was presented in October of 2013. A new performance was also scheduled for 2014.
Now as I see ahead to another season of performing, I cannot help but look inward at the many influences which drove me on. At the same time, ghosts stir in my mind as I think of friends who have passed on. Looking backward and forward at the same moment! This is a true metaphor for flamenco itself. With music that is not written and exists only as a mental and physical memory, there is constant renewal; we do connect the past and the future all in the same instant by the unique structure of this form!
As an update, the October 19, 2013 show was an artistic success, with some people saying it was the best so far. The first in 2012 had more material and variety in the presentation. However, opinions differ.
A new Flamenco Alhambra was set for June of 2014 and a poster was seen on the CVPA Webpage. During 2014, some flamenco friends invited me to be Guest Artist at a small venue known as the Havana Club Bar and Restaurant in El Monte, where flamenco dance and song is presented. I could not refuse. So there I am again back at the beginning. What goes around comes around!
The first and most gratifying development of 2014 was the registration of the “Mystery of Flamenco”, an edited and compiled work which I assembled and submitted to the Library of Congress. After some months, I was finally contacted by the Literary specialist, initially by a long email and finally by two phone calls. He asked that I authorize him to name an original author of the concept and credit myself for editing and compiling the text. I immediately agreed and I would receive confirmation within weeks that the work is registered and copyrighted with the Library of Congress! A triumph for this final task and a tribute to the enormous effort both my husband and I made to put flamenco in perspective. The Certificate of Registration was received in the mail not later than two weeks following my conversation with the Literary Specialist. The copyright from the Library of Congress states my legal name and my pseudonym of Inesita as the author and editor of the text and credits me with the compiling of the material in its final form. The specialist commented that the work was very interesting.
The appearance at the Havana in El Monte was stimulating and refreshing due to the intimacy of the tiny tavern—a bar and restaurant specializing in Cuban food. The audience reaction warmed me and everyone was respectful and gracious. Perhaps this is because of my long running performance resume. Without a doubt, it was a happy moment at this late stage of my career. Pure flamenco belongs in this sort of ambiance.
I was asked back to appear again as guest and performed in October of 2014 as well and in a return engagement in March of 2015. Still another was performed in 2016 and another projected for 2017.
A story of long ago…………..
The episode at La Golondrina so many years ago had numerous repercussions following my impromptu performance for La Argentinita and her Spanish Ensemble.
On that first night when I danced for the special guests, Antonio Triana was among them. I had seen him perform in their concert. He was a great personality and a marvelous foil for the two sisters, La Argentinita and Pilar Lopez.
On the second evening when they came again to the Café to have dinner and see my dances, Triana approached me to say how much “he liked me” I was flattered and surprised by his attention. Later he spoke to my parents and me about himself as the real “star” of the troupe and made comments about the difference in age between himself and Argentinita inplying that he was about twenty years younger.
He was good looking with obvious charm. Although short in stature with a high pitched voice, he was undeniably charismatic.
Some weeks passed and I received a letter from Mr. Triana. The tone of his writing indicated a strong interest in my dancing. The troupe was still on tour during this correspondence. I answered and received a reply. A number of letters passed between us. A large collection of this correspondence remains in my archives today. An interesting history!
Finally he broached the subject of an engagement in Mexico City where he planned to present me as a Spanish dance discovery and become his partner. After much discussion, it was decided that the offer was too good to refuse. In letters that followed, a contract for an engagement at a night club and a train ticket sealed the arrangement. In May of 1940 my mother and I took the train to Mexico City.
Madame de Bonzo and her entire staff staged a going away celebration to send me off with their blessings. They escorted me out of the Café singing together La Golondrina (the swallow) to underline the dramatic aspect of my leaving to become a star!
We were greeted at the train station in Mexico City by Triana himself and a young man who evidently wasa friend of his carrying a large bouquet of red carnations for me. We were taken in a taxi to the Regis Hotel in the heart of the City. Triana seemed very excited and he sometimes spoke in Spanish as well as fluent English.
His personality was as sparkling in real life as on the stage and it was impossible not to be drawn to him. As the days went by, we visited a studio where he conducted classes. While I was there, he actually instructed me in two of his dances, one the Intermezzo from the Opera Goyescas by Granados, and another flamenco inspired piano number titled Claveles Rojos. This composition was the work of Triana’s brother, Manuel Garcia- Matos whom I met while in Mexico. I was able to learn these dances quickly.
At this same time, my old contact with Janet Riesenfeld ( Raquel Rojas)was renewed as she lived and worked in Mexico. We did visit her and she seemed enthusiastic about my developing partnership with Triana. Raguel and Tarriba, her dance partner were taking classes with him at the time.
During this period, I was taken to a dressmaker and outfitted with two gorgeous costumes, one of a Goya inspired gown in mauve velvet and gold lace called a Maja de Goya and another in white lace as a “presentation” costume for any number of “Theater” dances. I also bought two beautiful flamenco dresses from Janet and another lovely gypsy skirt and blouse was included. A visit to a shoemaker was a must to have some special gold pumps to match the Maja de Goya and fitted with metal taps for better sound. My heelwork had not yet developed enough power.
Triana also remarked to me that I was only performing dances of Andalusia and not of the other provinces of Spain. Very true in those times; but my studies so far had not included concentration on regional dances and the all important Escuela Bolera syllabus. Only later, after I studied in Spain was I able to offer a wide variety in Spanish Dance. Today, Flamenco is the only popular form before the public.
Publicity came out in a local publication of my coming debut at Rio Rita, the establishment where I was contracted. My photograph was on the cover and Triana had given me a new name …Ines Montes. Obviously he was setting up a background from which to launch his partnership with me. The town seemed well aware of my presence in the city. At night, many taxi cabs arrived at our hotel to offer rides to the Rio Rita. When I was backstage with my mother, the men in the orchestra and on the staff would pause in their conversations to stare at me. They seemed to associate me as the sweetheart of Triana. Such was the atmosphere in that environment.
Triana also arranged that I have my portrait painted by a well known artist of popular styles, C. Ruano Llopis. I sat for him and he remarked that he had never seen anyone able to hold a pose so long and so still. The painting was titled “The little white gypsy” La Gitanilla Blanca. There seemed no end to Triana’s invention of my identity. All this was mildly amusing to us and yet prophetic in view of my own dreams of becoming a Spanish dancer.
The work at Rio Rita was difficult. The hours scheduled to night life of a cosmopolitan city was physically demanding on me to stay alert most of the night to dance in two shows. For some reason, the performers were all paid in pesos on a nightly basis. I do not know why this was customary.
Despite the scheduling, I was a success. One night someone threw a coat on the floor as I finished my number. The orchestra was composed of musicians who understood the rhythms and feeling in the dances I offered. It was nothing less than an exhilarating experience. Triana himself was extremely pleased with it all and declared I was elegant.
Prior to the opening, we were taken to the Club and I was introduced in the spotlight as if I were an important celebrity. My mother commented to me that I was “a brave little girl”. At the time I did not see it that way, as my courage as a performer in any setting overcame my innate timidity.
During the initial days of our stay, Triana discovered that I was a pianist and my ability to sing some Spanish songs thrilled him.
Barely four days passed when Triana took me to dinner and astonished me by asking me to marry him! My first reaction was tremendous humility that this great dancer was interested in me romantically. My second thought was that although I greatly admired him, I was not really attracted to him because he was so much older than I.
As the weeks past, I grew to feel an affinity for him because of the dance and his obvious ardor for me. Kisses were exchanged and his amorous attentions stirred something in me, which in retrospect could not have been more than an infatuation. We attended a bullfight together and it was an exciting experience. Triana was emotionally stirred by the spectacle.
Janet heard of all this, and at first seemed to condone the idea. She declared I should “give myself to him body and soul”. This seemed to me a much overblown opinion as I was really too young and unsophisticated to be involved in such a relationship.
The situation in our trip to Mexico was complicated by two unforeseen matters that came up. Both of these problems were in fact disturbing and outside of the immediate events at hand.
On our trip by rail, a man engaged my mother in conversation and after some pleasantries realized that my mother did not have proper papers to re-enter the United States as a citizen. My mother appeared foreign; hardly a typical American type and he predicted she would have trouble convincing the authorities at the border that she was indeed a citizen of the States. (She had been born in Russia and brought as a young child with the family to America). Correspondence was begun immediately with my father to arrange documents proving her citizenship by marriage to my father who was native born in New Jersey. U.S.A. This fortunately was done and she was subsequently able to cross the border.
The other matter concerned Triana himself. Apparently he had some questionable aspects in his past which cast doubt on him as a suitor. In all likelihood, not more than rumors or hearsay. This is common in the artistic world.
By this time, I was caught up with mixed feelings for this man and I wavered between regret and exhilaration.
The entire experience gave me an aura and lift to my personality which I did not possess before. My dance skills and talent and innate gifts which were recognized by many who saw me perform were in contrast to my naiveté and lack of sophistication as a woman.
During this period, Triana gave me a diamond ring which I did return before leaving Mexico.
When we left to return to Los Angeles, Triana was at the train station to see us off. The master of ceremonies from the Rio Rita also came to say goodbye. When Triana saw him he was very jealous!
Back in Los Angeles, I found that a great deal of gossip was stirred by my association with Triana. His interest in me as an artist was an impetus which confirmed my potential and he never stinted in his praise for me as a great dancer. While it boosted my confidence, I was torn by my emotional state. This resulted in the decision to marry him, become his partner and cast my future with him.
When we returned to Los Angeles, letters continued about the plans for marriage and our career together. However, my mother had enormous misgivings. She did not consider Triana as a husband for me and persuaded my father to write to him and forbid the union. I was both relieved and saddened by the decision. The two sides of my own character set up a conflict within me and I realized I was too young to handle this.
In view of the events of that trip, I did come away with a rich experience, a credit of having performed in a foreign country, a lovely new theatrical wardrobe, some new dances and a strong desire to make my life work as a Spanish dance artist.
Subsequently, Triana went on to form his own Ballet Company presented by Sol Hurok, the great impresario in those years, and pursued his career. I still received letters from him for some time.
When he saw me dance at Grace Hayes Lodge in Los Angeles some time later, he spoke of me to my mother and said, “there is no one like her”.
First New York Season and the Havana- Madrid
After six years of professional work in Spanish Dance primarily on the West Coast and South West I embarked on a venture to the “Big City”. I felt reasonably ready, although still lacking in confidence personally. Many friends urged me to test my ability in New York. It was still the hub of show business both popular and classical. In a basic sense, they could not have been more right.
The timing, which I did not realize at that moment, was exquisite. This was 1945, towards the end of World War II.
I set out by train for the East Coast with my costumes and music and fear in my heart. The first time alone really, although I elected to stay with my aunt for a feeling of security. Armed with recommendations to various contacts, I made a call to an agent whom I met in Los Angeles, one Kenneth Later. He had been affiliated with MCA in Los Angeles, but now I was told he was newly employed at the prestigious Theatrical Agency, The William Morris Office.
Later welcomed me and asked for my press book which already contained a respectable amount of publicity representing my concert work on the West Coast. Some weeks later I was notified that I was to open at the Havana Madrid night club on Broadway as featured Spanish Dancer. I recall being slightly disappointed that it was only a night club and not a possible appearance in a musical or some theater work.
I was very wrong.
I prepared for the engagement with my music and went to the Club. The cast consisted of the headliner, Diosa Costello, a Puerto Rican dancer and singer with a tremendous personality and flamboyant style of singing and dancing. The next performer on the roster was Jerry Lewis: at that time a single and brash comedian of only 19 years who was to become one of the most successful comics of that era. He became fascinated with my performance and wrote a note to me and sent an autographed picture as well.
The atmosphere at the Havana Madrid was an odd combination of artistic professionalism and the underbelly of brash show business. Apart from the serious performances of my own dance and others, the show featured a line of typical chorus girls similar to the ones I had known in San Francisco years earlier. Among them were some tough minded women who often boasted about how much they expected in return for their sexual favors. I recall one of the “girls” commenting that money was the only thing that made her passionate, and another remarked that only a four carat diamond would be acceptable. The old adage “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” seemed true in this company. I took it all in as usual and left them to their pursuits.
In keeping with this situation, I met a young Mexican-American girl through some mutual friends who attached herself to me with eagerness. In retrospect, I now understand her motives as she was in all probability an experienced woman of thirty and out to capture the attentions of a wealthy man. I and some of the acquaintances at the Club surmised she was accustomed to being “a kept” woman. In the end she accomplished her goal. Sylvia Pedroza was the daughter of a Mexican actor and well informed in the machinations of the business. She had no ambitions whatsoever to make a film career although she certainly was attractive enough; but perhaps lacked any real talent. She met her “rich man” at the Havana who set her up in the Salisbury Hotel and she became in effect his mistress. When he gave her money, she spent it right away. “I know my men” she said. I suppose this strategy worked and instead of continuing in this way, her boyfriend married her. He was a business man and he was keenly aware that if he didn’t take her she would look elsewhere. I believe she had a child with him and who knows what the end of the story is. But these threads and anecdotes serve to color the background of my own experience. None of the middle- aged men who were buddies of Sylvia’s husband were in any sense attractive to me. I could not imagine being close to any of them.
I opened the engagement at the Havana Madrid doing my Gitanerias dance with the castanets and fan plus a duo appearance with a lovely dancer named Nitza who was not really a flamenco artist but a versatile performer of different styles. We became friends. After about three weeks another dance team who had been engaged for the show dropped out for some reason and I was asked to do another number. I quickly complied with my Polo of Albeniz, dancing in male costume, and it was a hit with the audience. Thus I remained for ten weeks at a salary of $125.00.
I gladly paid 10% to the agent, a younger employee from the William Morris Office. He showed up regularly to collect his money.
I was seen by many people and numerous dancers during this run. Just at the opening of the engagement, we all heard of the death of La Argentinita, who succumbed suddenly in New York from cancer. It was like an omen. Nitza herself predicted that I would be her successor. At the time I regarded this as a very big order. Nitza admired me greatly. Somehow, I didn’t absorb the significance. Apart from this, one night the great dancer, Antonio of Antonio and Rosario fame came to the club. Antonio sat ringside exactly in front of me and watched intently as I danced Polo of Albeniz. It was a wonderful composition of rhythmic patterns based on Bulerias that I had learned from another dancer. She had been a friend of a Spanish dancer by the name of Mariquita Flores. Much material passes from one to another and in my interpretation I had found something special. I performed this dance many times in concert and made it my own.
After living in Los Angeles, although a native New Yorker, I found the harsh environment of the metropolis over whelming. As my stint at the Madrid ended, winter set in and I experienced a sort of malaise. There were many reasons for this. I may have been tired both physically and psychologically from the events of previous years. I had married at 21 and with much conflict I finally divorced my husband. I had poor judgment. I was called by the Agency to accept a ten day date in Boston, Mass. I never returned the call. I did not want to go.
Other opportunities presented themselves and I rejected everything due to my state of mind. Following ten months in New York I returned to Los Angeles.
Gradually I resumed my career on the West Coast. Some of it was gratifying; the continuation of my association with Edward Perkins and his concert tours, some club dates and film work. The technology of television began and I made several appearances on the new medium. I was more comfortable but it was leading nowhere in particular. During that time, I was contacted by Marcel Ventura, the manager for Antonio and I was offered an engagement with them to go on a concert tour to South America. I received a call and a letter, but ultimately rejected this as I thought I would be diminished by this. This was a mistake. I did not consult anyone or seek advice concerning this opportunity. My judgment remained cloudy.
Throughout I nevertheless remained active.
In 1948 the situation changed. My mother became ill with cancer and suffered until her death in 1949. A year earlier I had met a man who was involved in his own intellectual pursuit as a producer of radio interviews with outstanding authors. He produced, wrote, and presented the programs himself. Along the way, he became interested in my work and after a year he proposed marriage.
My early marriage was a passionate one, but the relationship faltered due to many factors and dissension between my mother and my husband. The resulting conflict tore me in different directions and I decided to leave him.
Bernard, my new acquaintance, was smitten from the first meeting. At first, I was unsure of my feelings as he was more than ten years older. However, he seemed to have a steadying influence on me and I once again considered marriage.
Although we came from different backgrounds, we shared an interest in the arts and literature and eventually we seemed compatible. He was to be an enormous help in many ways. In short, he gave me direction.
An update to the early experience of my engagement at the Havana-Madrid in 1945. The news of the death of Jerry Lewis at 91 came in today, August 21, 2017.
I related how I had a personal contact with Lewis during the run. Looking back over that distant past and my encounter with him and his obvious interest in my work and subsequent note and autographed photo to me is nostalgic in a way. Although I stated at the time I did not particularly admire his brand of comedy, his great talent and artistry was unmistakably present and I am proud that I knew him however briefly.
Sadly, one by one, they leave.. So many of my show business colleagues have passed on……………..