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House Call: Casa Flamenca offers performances in an intimate tablao setting

Casa Flamenca founder Jesus Muñoz performs a duet with instructor Valeria Montes in front of a packed house during a tablao show. (Nick Fojud/For the Journal)

The adobe home along Rio Grande NW near Old Town looks like the rest of the decades-old structures.

Yet this one – at 401 Rio Grande NW – is different.

The exterior is painted bright yellow, an eye-popping turquoise, a block of deep red with white lettering that reads “Casa Flamenca.”

And white polka dots dance across the wall.

It’s inviting to passers-by and piques plenty of interest.

Upon entering the 1940s home, one can see the organization is cultivating a chapter of flamenco in Albuquerque.

For the past five years, Casa Flamenca has presented its summer tablao series – in addition to its classes for children and adults.

With no more than 40 guests, two dancers – Jesus Muñoz and Valeria Montes – step onto the wooden floor three nights a week.

The duo aren’t perched above the audience on a stage. They share the space with the audience as each performer claps and pounds the floor with vigor. This, all close to the audience, which is akin to the tablaos put on in Spain.

“Sometimes I have to remember that I’m so close to the audience,” Montes quips during a performance. “I get lost in dancing, and I have to remember to position myself differently.”

Muñoz says the idea for a tablao season wouldn’t be possible without Casa Flamenca Inc. and the Urban Enhancement Trust Fund.

“We saw a compelling need for flamenco performances in Albuquerque’s Old Town five years ago,” he says. “Very little happened in Old Town after dark. So, the Casa Flamenca moved into an old adobe building on Rio Grande and began setting up shop.”

When Casa Flamenca began, Muñoz says, most of the flamenco performances of both Albuquerque and Santa Fe-based organizations had been dedicated to Santa Fe.

Right: One of many mural runs alongside Casa Flamenca’s southern wall. The venue doubles as a home for artists as well as a performance space. (Nick Fojud/For the Journal)

“Albuquerque was dry of performance outside of Festival Flamenco and a few weekends of flamenco company performances,” he says. “We began with eight Saturday performances, and year-by-year we added performances until we came up with 24 shows to be produced in June and July.”

Although Muñoz and Montes are the primary dancers, they are often joined by a singer and a guitarist.

This season’s resident singer is Ana Maria Polanco, from Cadiz, Spain.

As the featured guest, Polanco also gets to live in Casa Flamenca during her three-month stint in Albuquerque.

“Ana will be debuting her first album release this month at the Casa Flamenca,” he says. “She’s really sweet and a kind soul, and when she sings, she just eats up the entire room. Her voice is Aretha Franklin-meets-flamenco. It’s big; it’s harsh, it’s soulful and it’s bittersweet – Ana Polanco moves you.”

The guitarists rotate throughout the season, though 19-year-old Mathias Rodriguez is often performing the tablaos.

From left, Valeria Montes, Ana Polanco and Kristofer Hill perform as Jesus Muñoz dances during a show at Casa Flamenca. (Nick Fojud/For the Journal)

Rodriguez has been involved with Casa Flamenca since he was 13.

“A person young or old is almost never ready to take the giant leap from student to professional, because it’s such a leap, but one can’t learn how to swim if that person doesn’t jump in the water,” Muñoz says.

Muñoz says Casa Flamenca is a center for flamenco art, and he likes that it’s not an institution.

“Our goal … is to really push past our means to create extraordinary events, classes and moments for the community in Albuquerque with extraordinary collaborators,” he says. “Examples are workshops, concerts, tablaos and really – everyday classes. We are always trying to feel more. We want to create a sustainable organization that is known as a pioneer for creating unique projects that are representative and accessible to our community. We want to create work based on our dreams and also be financially responsible for the manifestation of those dreams. We are dreamers and visionaries here at the Casa Flamenca. … We love Albuquerque, and we love being ambassadors of this great artistic work that is being done here.”