The Body Questions: Celebrating Flamenco’s Tangled Roots

Yinka Esi Graves, photograph by Nina Sologubenko

International Conference, October 16–17, 2018
New York City

The Foundation for Iberian Music at The Barry S. Brooks Center for Music Research and Documentation at the CUNY Graduate Center and the Department of Film, Media, and Performing Arts at The Fashion Institute of Technology are hosting a two-day international conference and flamenco performance festival in New York on October 16–17, 2018.  

This interdisciplinary series of events, free and open to the public, fosters dialogue between scholars, flamenco artists, and audiences about flamenco as a diasporic and migratory art. We aim to articulate the work of dance in transmitting culture—including ideas about race—and to broaden understanding of the historical and political forces driving these processes. Marking the release of K. Meira Goldberg’s monograph Sonidos Negros: On the Blackness of Flamenco (Oxford University Press, fall 2018), The Body Questions will present research and experimentation which foregrounds the power of the body to question, to disrupt outmoded discourses of “authenticity,” and to work instead to relocate flamenco within a vibrant intersection of art as a celebration of diversity and agency against racism. We seek to identify, deconstruct, reflect on, debate, and ultimately reformulate our understanding of Spain’s impact on slavery, of dance as questioning and disrupting racism, and of flamenco as an Africanist art form.

Academic Conference (day one): On October 16, a symposium will be held at the Foundation for Iberian Music at the CUNY Graduate Center. From pre-modern Christmas pageants all the way through to Jordan Peele’s “sunken place”—a place where, as Simone de Beauvoir has written, the subjectivity of “sovereign and unique” beings “is crushed by the dark weight of other things,” Whiteness and Blackness have been conjoined in a series of negative correlations. Purity and pollution, harmony and dissonance, over and under, order and disorder, Christian epiphany and damning confusion have limned the edge distinguishing freedom and personhood from enslavement and abjection. Yet in these paradigmatic dyads one term always implies—indeed, defines—the other; in these relations there is never erasure, but rather evidence of white culture’s perverse fascination—envy, even—with the sonorous, dislocated, inciting, and infinitely suggestive products of black culture. We seek in this gathering to attend to flamenco’s cacophony, dissonance, and disorder as vibrating with a fugitive, turbulent Otherness, hinting at the specters of alternate social, spiritual, and aesthetic universes.

Click here for the Call for Papers. The deadline is August 1, 2018. The deadline is now August 21.

Performance Festival (day two): On October 17, a performance festival, free and open to the public, will be held at Fashion Institute of Technology. It features a screening of Miguel Ángel Rosales’s powerful documentary film, Gurumbé: Canciones de tu memoria negra (2016), telling the little-known story of slavery in Spain, along with a performance by Yinka Esi Graves, whose emergence onto the international stage is disrupting the “color barrier” in flamenco, and a conversation between Rosales, Graves, and renowned dance historian Dr. Brenda Dixon Gottschild (Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance, 1996). Two additional concerts showcase a diverse group of black and brown flamenco dancers, whose work challenges us to see flamenco in a new light:

John Amira, master percussionist in a number of Cuban and Haitian traditions, will present a lecture/demonstration on overlaps and coincidences between flamenco and Afro-Caribbean rhythms.

Aliesha Bryan, who won First Place in the 2016 Flamenco Certamen USA and is developing a performing career in both the United States and Spain, will present new work.

Kevin LaMarr Jones, Director of CLAVES UNIDOS, presents an experience for participants to discover, share, and celebrate the historical and social connections of African dance.

Niurca Marquez, a Latinx flamenco artist questioning colonization and its effect on the body and psyche, whose experimental work with her group Nu Flamenco ranges from fusion with other forms such as hip hop to radically surreal and experimental dance theater.

Justice Miles, an MFA student in the flamenco program at University of New Mexico, presenting excerpts from her work, Ink on Cotton.

Arielle Rosales, a Mexican-American Jewish Boricua New Yorker whose unruly explorations are on the cutting edge of flamenco experimentation.

Nelida Tirado, a New York-based flamenco dancer who, among other accolades, was selected as one of Dance Magazine’s 2007 “25 To Watch,” will present excerpts of her work Dime Quien Soy, a meditation on the entanglements of her Puerto Rican and Spanish flamenco dance lineage.