Pasión Play: Tamara Adira's Arte y Pasión continue to push flamenco's boundaries with Confluencias

Confluencias is the latest successful project spearheaded by dancer and choreographer Adira.

click to enlarge Confluencias is the latest successful project spearheaded by dancer and choreographer Tamara Adira. - COURTESY PHOTO / TAMARA ADIRA
Courtesy Photo / Tamara Adira
Confluencias is the latest successful project spearheaded by dancer and choreographer Tamara Adira.

The flamenco troupe Arte y Pasión, headed by dancer Tamara Adira, returned to the stage last week with its latest production, Confluencias. After premiering at Brick at Blue Star Thursday, the show then moved to the more intimate Carmens de La Calle for two Friday engagements.

For the production, the troupe enlisted help from vocalist Celia Sellars of Austin; guitarist Beto Boyd of Portland, Oregon; and dancer El Caballero from Madrid, Spain. Guitarist Randy Cordero, dancer Genevive Obregon, percussionist Alex Nicholas and vocalist Andrea "Vocab" Sanderson — all of San Antonio — rounded out the cast.

The ensemble was a confluence of global talent, which seemed appropriate given the theme for the night: the merging of cultures and histories.

The Brick performance began with the sounds of clicking castanets performed by Adira. Notwithstanding an overworked fog machine and some lengthy, spoken word narratives, the members of Arte y Pasión delivered riveting performances.

With rapid-fire footwork and powerful energy, El Caballero's solos nearly stole the show, each drawing a standing ovation. The more subtle stylings of Obregon and Adira held the production together. In one highlight, Sanderson performed Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" before the tune transitioned into a flamenco number again showcasing El Caballero.

Confluencias is the latest successful project spearheaded by dancer and choreographer Adira. However, her acceptance into San Antonio's flamenco community didn't come easy.

A relative newcomer to the art form, Adira was greeted as black sheep when Arte y Pasión burst onto the scene in 2009.

Her introduction came through elaborate stage shows such as 2010's Generaciones, which starred the late masters Teo Morca and Timo Lozano. In 2015, the troupe's production of Colores, a visual feast featuring centaurs and vibrantly hued dance vignettes, was picked up as part of the Carver Community Cultural Center's 2015 season.

But with a tendency towards high-concept productions, often pairing flamenco with other genres, Adira irked more than a few dancers and musicians along the way.

"It was tough being the butt of jokes over the years," Adira said. "I was criticized for dancing badly, for thinking I was a better dancer than I was. ... People around me said I wasn't dancing flamenco. But I just kept learning. ... I never stopped learning."

Pushing forward

Adira weathered the criticism and pushed forward with her vision. As a result, she's forged a flamenco troupe unlike any other in San Antonio. Arte y Pasión doesn't treat flamenco as a museum piece. Rather, the troupe uses flamenco to express the urgency of current events, bringing the ancient art form new relevance.

Since the troupe's 2017 production Estrellas, inspired by the "genetic memory of trauma carried as an American Jew," Adira has focused on bringing attention to social issues with each new work. In 2020 the troupe protested the treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border with Mantas de Luz.

With Confluencias the troupe is commenting on the displacement of migrants and refugees around the world.

These days, Adira favors intimate spaces and unconventional venues, seeing them as a means to reach new viewers. Her inventive approach often includes poetry, striking visuals and varied collaborations with outside musicians. Again, part of the intent is to draw audiences unfamiliar with flamenco.

As such, Adira may be San Antonio's most visible flamenco artist. A distinction she's earned by making an art form often shrouded in mystery and tradition accessible to contemporary audiences.

No more chases

Although she's willing to blur lines between musical genres and performance styles, Adira first and foremost considers herself a flamenco dancer. She speaks of her work like an artist comfortable in her own skin, adding that she's happy with the group's current direction and form.

"In the past, I chased after people," she said of Arte y Pasión's periodic lineup changes. "But now, everyone is here because they want to be here and want to make something creative."

Beyond her work leading the troupe, Adira was cast in Ballet San Antonio's production of Don Quixote, part of its 2021-2022 season at the Tobin Center. She called the opportunity "a gift from God, if there is one."

Next, Arte y Pasión will perform alongside the world-renowned dancer Belen Maya when she arrives in San Antonio in late May.

"When you fear that you can't go on without somebody, you wonder if you're going to be successful, but then, all of a sudden, other opportunities start flooding in," Adira said.

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