The Untold Story of Flamenco: Robert Morris University The Untold Story of Flamenco | Robert Morris University

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BY ROBERT ISENBERG

There's nothing quite like flamenco. To newbies, it looks a little like tango, with its elaborate gestures. But then there’s the rhythmic clapping, the heavy steps, and the solo guitar playing melancholic songs. Created by the Gitano people of southern Spain of southern Spain, this passionate dance has spread through Europe, Latin America, and even Japan.

But what is the story of flamenco in the United States? How did flamenco come here, and who dances its steps? This is the question posed by Carolina Loyola-Garcia, M.F.A., associate professor of media arts, in her documentary-inprogress, "Inheritors of a Burden." "Flamenco is the one performance form that I fell in love with," says Loyola-Garcia. "It speaks to me on a very raw, internal level."

Loyola-Garcia is an energetic polymath whose creativity is blinding. She has already produced a dozen videos, from traditional documentaries to commissioned works and experimental films. These videos demonstrate an incredible range of vision and intent. "The Other Land" is a dreamy exploration of language and culture, filmed in unnaturally bright colors and starring a creepy mix of mummers and nuns. In contrast, "Pascua Lama" is a straightforward documentary that investigates the gold mining industry in Chile. Many of these projects incorporate both English and Spanish.

But the artist is involved in far more than videograpgy. She has also credited art installations, she has curated art shows, and she has provided video backdrops for Quantum Theatre and other theatrical troupes. Her work has been showcased in film and art exhibitions from Pittsburgh to Spain, Canada, Cuba, and her native Chile. Meanwhile, as an associate professor, Loyola-Garcia teaches video and motion graphics at Robert Morris, as well as classes for Pittsburgh Filmmakers, Carlow College, and Carnegie Mellon University, where she earned her M.F.A. in 2000.

But throught it all, there is flamenco. Loyola-Garcia's love affair goes back to her childhood in Santiago. Her father, an "opera fanatic," took the family to see a performance of Carmen that featured dance sequences modeled on flamenco. Loyola-Garcia was mesmerized. When she was 13, her family took a trip to Spain to visit relatives, and she encountered authentic flamenco for the first time. When she reached college, Loyola-Garcia took dance classes, and the rest is historia. "I got hooked, you know?" she says. "It’s not something that I do full-time. It’s one of my hobbies. But I’m very much in love with it. It tells the story of oppression, of a people coming together because of the Spanish Inquisition. You can hear the lamentation."

Loyola-Garcia first brewed the idea for a documentary in 2005. The process has been slow, beginning with a trip to New York in 2008, where she began to learn flamenco’s complex family tree – instructors, choreographers, performers, and students. "I was casting the documentary, in a way," she recalls. Among the many personalities Loyola-Garcia hopes to introduce to wider audiences is José Greco, an early proponent of flamenco in America. Greco passed away in 2000, but Loyola-Garcia interviewed the dancer’s daughter and many of Greco's students and collaborators, hoping to illustrate his powerful legacy.

"Inheritors of a Burden" is characteristically ambitious, and Loyola-Garcia has crossed the country in pursuit of material. Using grants from the Heinz Endowments and the Pittsburgh Foundation, the intrepid producer traveled to Washington, Lancaster, and Philadelphia. Her research took her team as far as Madrid, and she also planned to shoot footage in New York, California, and Florida. But last year she stumbled into a problem: Her sizable grants would not fund her tour of New York, one of flamenco’s most important hotspots.

Not to be deterred, Loyola-Garcia turned to Kickstarter, an online fundraising tool for grassroots art projects. She described her project, set a goal of $2,500, and offered rewards for contributions. Investors who pledged $10 would receive free admission to the film’s premiere; at the $50 level, investors would receive a "special thanks" film credit and a signed DVD. Loyola-Garcia not only met her goal, she far surpassed it, earning $3,873 from 56 backers in 30 days. Soon after, she traveled with her film crew to New York and filmed hours of interviews and performance. Loyola-Garcia is still actively seeking sponsors to fund her remaining shoots and post-production.

The film's official premiere is planned for December. Loyola-Garcia wants to recut the film in a variety of forms to appeal to a range of viewers and maximize her audience on the festival circuit. "We want to describe the history. We want to show contemporary flamenco artists. And we want to showcase what flamenco is -- what it looks like, what it sounds like," she says. "In the end, it’s all very intertwined."

WEB EXCLUSIVE

The Power of Flamenco - See a sneak preview of "Inheritors of a Burden," an RMU professor's documentary in the making about Americans who want to preserve the torrid dance of Spain.

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