Yjastros. It’s Spanish for “stepchildren.”
Yet watching the dozen dancers of Yjastros: The American Flamenco Repertory Company, one could see each member is anything but.
For 15 years – and 30 seasons – the members of the flamenco company have built a family dynamic that would be the envy of many.
Each day, for two hours, the dancers get together to practice at Carlisle Gym on the University of New Mexico campus.
Most of that time is unpaid, but each dancer is devoted to the craft, often fitting in daily life around practice times.
And each member wants to see each show go off without a hitch.
Joaquin Encinias began the company in 1999 – though it spent two years practicing before opening its first show in 2001.
Encinias – along with his mother, Eva, and sister, Marisol – have created a program in which the art of flamenco thrives on a local and international level.
In fact, Joaquin and Marisol are the principal dancers for the company.
Each member of Yjastros has been pulled in by flamenco. And while each comes together as a unit, the roads to flamenco are varied.
Carlos Menchaca didn’t fall in love with flamenco until he took a master class with Joaquin Encinias in San Antonio, Texas, when he was 17.
At that moment, a path began to clear for Menchaca. He moved to Albuquerque, and the rest is history.
Beginning with the company in 2006, he spent two years as an apprentice, then six years as a core member and now a soloist for the past three years.
“It’s quite special,” he says of Yjastros. “It’s rare to see a flamenco company that meets daily. We also recognize the strength in the music, and it shows in our dancing.”
Although Menchaca and a few of the other dancers are company veterans, others, such as Isabel Hees, have begun to see some changes in their dancing.
Hees, 26, is one of the newest apprentices. Her first performance is on Thursday, April 14.
She recently signed a contract with the company.
“I’ve been studying with Eva closely,” she says. “A few weeks ago, I found out that I would actually be performing. It’s an intense feeling, because I know what is required of me. It’s something that I’ve worked for and put in the time.”
During the practice, Joaquin Encinias uses his eagle eye to get everything perfect. From the space between dancers to the actual footwork, his feedback is critical.
He often yells out, “Stop!,” then a photo is taken to archive his vision.
The dancers are working on “Fandango” by Spanish choreographer Valeriano Paños, who will arrive in Albuquerque in a few weeks to see the progress.
Paños’ body of work is considered Danza Española, which marries flamenco and classical.
The piece embraces novelty and abstraction in movement through the composition of a pre-flamenco Fandango. Juxtaposing these elements with traditional flamenco, Paños uses a different vocabulary to develop an introspective world on-stage that only strives to move the audience forward, a fusion of past and present.
“This is a different genre of dance,” Joaquin Encinias says. “It’s beautiful and something very different than we’ve tried.”
Noelle and Nevarez Encinias carved a familial path to flamenco.
The siblings – and children of Joaquin Encinias – are fifth-generation dancers. The pair practically grew up with castanets in their hands.
“It was the way I grew up,” Nevarez Encinias says. “Being a boy and not liking my body, it helped give me the confidence.”
Noelle Encinias has not only grown up in a family of dancers, but she has been raised by many of the Yjastros dancers.
She has watched dancers like Kayla Lyall and Rebekah Leyva spend years with Yjastros.
“It’s nice being surrounded by strong women,” Noelle Encinias says. “Each one of them has taught me something about dance and life.”
Each dancer learns from world-class choreographers who may spend weeks at a time in Albuquerque.
“What we’ve developed is this strong family,” Leyva says. “The opportunities we have are unprecedented. We’re all in this together, and we’ve become each other’s friends and family. This is the group I spend the most time with, and I knew getting into dance that I wouldn’t have time for anything else.”