'It still feels otherworldly:' Yjastros invited to prestigious Spain festival - Albuquerque Journal

‘It still feels otherworldly:’ Yjastros invited to prestigious Spain festival

Noelle Encinias, flamenco dancer of Yjastros: The American Flamenco Repertory Company, practices during rehearsal at the National Institute of Flamenco. The company was invited to the prestigious Festival de Jerez in Spain. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

Love, pain and energy.

Joaquín Encinias uses these three words to describe the art of flamenco.

Flamenco has always been a part of the Albuquerque native’s life. His mother, Eva Encinias, founded the National Institute of Flamenco.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Encinias watches closely as his group Yjastros: The American Flamenco Repertory Company rehearses in the Sawmill District.

Five times a week, for two hours a day, 10 dancers gather to prepare for an opportunity of a lifetime.

Yjastros, which was founded in 1999, is the first American company to be invited to the prestigious Festival de Jerez in Spain.

“There have been American solo dancers before that performed at the festival,” Encinias says. “We’re the first full American company to perform in the festival’s 27 years.”

The Festival de Jerez will feature 46 shows, which includes 13 premieres. Over the course of its run, the festival showcases premiere flamenco dancers – most of whom reside in Spain. This year features all Spain companies with the exception of Yjastros and a company out of Japan. The festival runs Feb. 24 through March 11, and Yjastros will perform on Feb. 28.

Antonio González, provincial deputy for culture of the Cádiz Provincial Council, said the festival has become a global and integrating event.

“It is designed for everyone to feel it as their own, to enjoy it as a personal and collective experience,” González says. “(The festival) will not only transform the city into the world capital of flamenco, but also of tourism-made flamenco.”

Yjastros has spent months working on the performance that it will present in Jerez. Encinias says the work will continue until the company leaves in late February.

Navy Encinias, flamenco dancer of Yjastros: The American Flamenco Repertory Company, practices during rehearsal at the National Institute of Flamenco.(Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

“The festival is really well-loved by most flamenco dancers,” Encinias says. “It’s a fun little city.”

In 1999, Encinias and the National Institute of Flamenco had the idea of creating a U.S.-based flamenco company that would grow.

bright spotWhile the seeds were planted, the NIF and the Encinias family cultivated the company to become innovative in dance.

Adding to the rise, the NIF presents Festival Flamenco de Alburquerque each year, which sets the group among international companies coming to perform in Albuquerque.

“I imagined a great company,” Encinias says of Yjastros’ journey. “A really wise man, Alejandro Granados, told me that the vision I had was a big one. He told me to be ready for it not to turn out as expected. There are parts of me that still have desires and wishes. We’ve reached other plateaus and mountaintops that we wouldn’t have reached otherwise.”

Along with the 10 dancers participating in the festival, there will be about seven musicians. Encinias says the company is continuing to raise money for artists’ fees, some travel and expenses of the show. Donations can be made at nifnm.org.

Andrea Lozano is one of the dancers set to perform in Jerez. It’s an opportunity that not only makes her nervous but excited.

She’s danced with Yjastros since 2018 and came from Laredo, Texas, to study flamenco at the University of New Mexico.

Navy Encinias, Andrea Lozano, and Elena Osuna, practice their routines during rehersals of Yjastros: The American Flamenco Repertory Company. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Lozano says. “This will be the first time I will perform in Spain. It’s exciting and I’m proud of everyone in the company.”

Ysabela Trujillo is marking her fifth year with Yjastros by being part of the company making history.

“We’re all really excited to have this opportunity,” Trujillo says. “We’ve been practicing since the beginning of the semester.”

Within the core of Yjastros, there is a third generation of Encinias dancers.

Navy and Noelle Encinias – two of Joaquin Encinias’ children – are part of the heart and soul of the company.

Noelle Encinias, like her father, has been around flamenco since she was a child.

“Dancing was just a part of our lives growing up,” she says. “As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned to love the art form and it means so much more to me now and I’ve taken it as my own.”

Encinias is still shocked by the invitation to dance in Jerez.

“It still feels otherworldly,” she says. “I won’t believe it’s true until I step foot on the soil there.”

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