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Latin America Report

'Like a hammer to let go of their sorrows.' Venezuelan Siudy Garrido is a flamenco force

SiudyGarrido1.jpeg
Courtesy Siudy Garrido Flamenco
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Venezuelan flamenco dancing star Siudy Garrido

Venezuelan-born, Miami-based Siudy Garrido is a modernizing force in a historically Spanish-dominated art form. She performs this weekend in Aventura.

Flamenco is a revered Spanish art form — and since flamenco music and dance emerged in Andalusia more than 200 years ago, its most famous dancers have been Spanish, especially Romani Spanish.

Siudy Garrido is changing all that.

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Garrido is one of the world's most popular flamenco dancers today — and she is not a Spaniard. She was born and raised in Venezuela. In 2015, she moved her Siudy Garrido Flamenco Company to Miami, where she recently performed shows like “Bailaora” at the Adrienne Arsht Center and “Flamenco Intimo” in Doral. After dancing on Broadway last weekend, she returns here this weekend to take the stage in Aventura.

Garrido’s modernizing style has made for sold-out performances and critical praise. She spoke with WLRN Americas editor Tim Padgett about flamenco and her innovating effect on the genre.

Siudy - Seguirilla en Alexis Valdes - Flamenco Performance Live Tv

Here are excerpts from their conversation, edited for clarity.

PADGETT: I’m looking at some video of you dancing on a TV show in Venezuela when you were just 6 years old. What was it like, being something of a flamenco prodigy?

GARRIDO: I remember in the rehearsal, the flamenco singer came and started singing another song than mine, and I stopped him. I say, “That's not the song. My song is ‘Agua de Coco.’” And he can’t believe that a 6-year-old girl tells him that's not the correct song. And he’s telling himself at that moment, “OK, she's a professional dancer — even if she only has six years, she knows what she's doing.”

PADGETT: And you knew what you were doing thanks to your mother, Siudy Quintero, who trained you at her flamenco dance studio in Caracas. Why was flamenco, and teaching flamenco, such a passion for her?

GARRIDO: My Venezuelan grandfather loved bullfighting and flamenco music. At that time there was a lot of Spanish immigration into Venezuela, and a lot of flamenco dancers came in. So my mother, she met flamenco when she was 18 years old. And when my mother saw it for the first time, she completely fell in love.

But the flamenco was not respected in Venezuela like ballet or other styles of dance. It was a dance for nightclubs. So her main purpose was to have flamenco seen as an art in Venezuela. My mother always told me: “Flamenco is like a kiss. It’s an art form with personality, and you can be free inside the flamenco.”

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Flamenco is an elegant, emotional and often forceful art form, especially its rapid fire dance steps, and it's very much a product of Spanish history and culture. Have you experienced discrimination in the flamenco world because you weren't a Spaniard?

Oh, all my life. Not so much from the flamenco guild or Spanish dancers, who I find appreciate flamenco dancers of other nationalities.

But I've felt discrimination from promoters during my career. They find it difficult to sell a dancer who is not from Spain. I remember when I was 21, one manager, she really loved my work and she tells me, “But I don't know how I can sell you, because you are so different from what people expect to see about flamenco. My hair is blond; my eyes are green; I'm a tall woman. And my style has a lot of Latin American influence.

Flamenco invites honesty and passion — so I love designing out of the box with different influences and connecting traditional flamenco music and dance to new audiences.
Siudy Garrido

PADGETT: Let's talk about that New World influence on an Old World genre like flamenco. What Latin American elements have you brought to it?

GARRIDO: Sometimes I mix flamenco music with Venezuelan folklore music, because Venezuelan music has similarities with flamenco music. Like joropo. The basic joropo rhythm is like: one-two-three, one-two-three; and the flamenco rhythm known as bulería is: one-two-one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten. In one of my shows, I close with a fusion of that music.

Siudy Garrido - Pajarillo - Venezuela Es Mucho Mas - World Music Group

PADGETT: And you call that number “Pajarillo,” after a popular Venezuelan joropo dance. So actually, has the fact that you're not a Spaniard allowed you to be a more innovative and modernizing force in flamenco? I mean, not just the music and dance, but the sets and costumes in your shows are more lavish than a traditional flamenco performance.

GARRIDO: I love designing out of the box. I love influences from the pop culture. And therefore I can bring traditional flamenco music and dance and connect with a new audience. For example, I love jazz music.

TAKE FIVE

PADGETT: You know, until you mentioned it, I'd forgotten that the great jazz pianist Dave Brubeck was very influenced by rhythms like Spanish flamenco. And so you pay tribute to his famous track “Take Five” in one of your shows.

Solea_Por_Buleria_Dave_Brubeck_Take_5.mp3

But how do flamenco traditionalists or purists respond to all this?

GARRIDO: I think bringing flamenco art into the 21st century is difficult for anyone, from Spain or not. Flamenco is something special and really unique. But sometimes when you speak only to flamenco people, you lose a lot of communication with the general audience.

PADGETT: You became better known to the general U.S. audience in 2015, when you performed with fellow Venezuelan and world famous conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. How important was that?

GARRIDO: Working with Gustavo was a blessing. It was a great vote of confidence for my work and opened a lot of doors.

PADGETT: It did: Since then, the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts here in Miami named you an arts partner. You’ve danced on American network television. You just performed on Broadway last weekend.  

So, Siudy, at the end of the day, why do you feel we should all embrace flamenco music and dance?

GARRIDO: It's…it's very visceral. Flamenco art invites honesty and passion — to express yourself singing with that sound: Clack, tick-tick, clack, tick-tick, clack…like a hammer to let go of their sorrows.

Siudy Garrido and her flamenco dance company will perform this Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.