Collaboration lies at the heart of flamenco, an art form comprised of three parts - cante (song), baile (dance), and toque (guitar playing). Since 2012, a unique performance and education collaboration has existed between Yjastros, Albuquerque’s premier flamenco repertory company, and The University of New Mexico (UNM), where Yjastros works, teaches and performs as UNM’s company in residence.
The partnership is relatively new, but this fall, Yjastros celebrates two decades of training and performance with the launch of their thirty-third season (Yjastros 33). At the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC) on Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Yjastros will present “a stunning display of the full range of emotional and choreographic possibilities in flamenco repertory.”
In the early years of Yjastros, the company would perform in the spring or the fall, until they adopted their current model of two seasons per year. Based at the National Institute of Flamenco (NIF), Yjastros is a unique flamenco project, using the structure of a repertory theatre to present and preserve the vibrant art of flamenco.
“Yjastros brings to light many different facets of the profound beauty of artistic expression,” says Artistic Director Joaquin Encinias. “We need culture and art as human beings, and Yjastros is a catalyst to enact positive change in our immediate local and wider national and international communities.”
Eva Encinias-Sandoval, founder of the NIF and professor of Dance at UNM, cherishes the collaborative community experiences provided by the partnership.
“Flamenco really lends itself to community work,” Encinias-Sandoval says. “Collaborating with a nonprofit gives a lot of freedom to negotiate programs that can dovetail with UNM, and then the community is feeling the importance of the University.”
There’s also a cyclical connection between UNM students and professional dancers working with Yjastros. Sometimes working members of Yjastros will decide to get their degrees at UNM. In the more expected path, UNM flamenco students start apprenticeships with Yjastros.
“The (professional) clock doesn’t start when they graduate college. It starts while they’re still students, because they apprentice for two years before they articulate into the company,” Encinias-Sandoval says. “If they can start in their junior year, then by the time they finish (school), they can start as a member of the company.”
About six of Yjastros’ flamenco soloists are also teachers in the NIF charter school (middle school and high school), teaching dance and an academic subject. Many get their teaching certification through UNM’s College of Education. Charter school students can then enter the UNM flamenco program after dancing or playing music for six years.
In addition to performance seasons in the spring and fall, Yjastros is instrumental to the Flamenco Festival held in New Mexico each summer, offering classes and performances throughout.
“We keep the dancers and the musicians real busy,” Encinias-Sandoval says. “It’s wonderful to be an artist and for there to be plenty of work. It’s not that common.”
As the resident dance company at UNM, Yjastros brings artists in residency to campus for 4-5 weeks at a time in the fall and spring. They teach higher level technique classes and rehearse with UNM students and Yjastros. This isn’t merely a wonderful opportunity for students to work with international dancers and choreographers, it’s also an aspect of the partnership that allows all of the work to be preserved.
“Yjastros offers a core of dancers who can be learning these dances, so they can keep that choreography active,” Encinias-Sandoval says. “When UNM wants to use one of the routines, Yjastros comes in to teach the dancers – teach the spacing, teach the steps – and make those beautiful choreographies available to the University program. It’s very much a win-win.”