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Siempre Flamenco brings Spain to Milwaukee

Feb. 12, 2014
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The dancers clap their hands before getting ready to stab their sharp heels hard against the wooden floor, knocking in rhythm to the percussive playing of acoustic guitars. Arms and hands swing expressively, necks turn and heels keep up the beat before the singer begins, eyes closed, giving a cry from the heart.

Siempre Flamenco are deep into performance: dancers Dianne Dziengel and Rebecca Skurulsky incorporate the interpretive body language of ballet and jazz dance into the traditional steps of southern Spain; guitarists Eric Wruck and Don Weimer are keyed to the motion, their strings vibrating in time with the dancers; from singer Darele Bisquerra, joy rises from a deep well of melancholy.

Flamenco was to Spain as blues was to the American South—the music and poetry of a despised underclass, the expression of defiant survival in the face of sadness and slender odds. Flamenco music draws from residue of Iberia’s Moorish legacy and influences that the country’s wandering Gypsies retained from their long migration from India through Europe to the Mediterranean shores. The dance is inseparable from the sound of those guitars.

“We have done the work to anchor ourselves in the tradition,” Skurulsky says. With the exception of Bisquerra, flamenco arrived late in the lives of Siempre Flamenco’s members. Dziengel and Skurulsky had varied backgrounds in Russian and Middle Eastern dance, ballet and tap. “When I saw flamenco performed, the hair stood on end on the back of my neck. I decided I had do this or die!” Skurulsky says. Similarly, Dziengel “saw a Spanish group perform and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Wruck and Weimer played electric guitar in high school garage bands. Wruck recalls being struck at age 12 by a Jose Greco performance on Ed Sullivan, “but I never could figure out how to play this music.” Flamenco guitarist Peter Baime, who now teaches at UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts, was instrumental in helping Wruck and Weimer develop their skills and interests. But for Bisquerra, of Spanish-Portuguese ancestry, “these rhythms come naturally to me. I have an affinity for minor keys,” she insists.

Siempre Flamenco’s repertoire comes from a cross-section of flamenco styles in terms of regional origin and emotional content. The mix has proven appealing to Milwaukee audiences largely unfamiliar with flamenco. At a Sunday performance last summer in the courtyard of Villa Terrace, the crowd stayed through the entire show, setting a sales record for the venue’s coffee and bakery vendors. As shown, too, by last year’s Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana performance at the South Milwaukee PAC, flamenco is gaining a larger audience in the area than ever before.

Siempre Flamenco perform at the Frank L. Weyenberg Library, 11345 N. Cedarburg Road, Mequon, 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 26; and the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 926 E. Center St., 7 p.m., Saturday, March 8.


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