Juan Manuel Fernández Montoya (or Farruquito as he is better known) is one of the most famous names in flamenco -- and one of the most tragic. In 2001, the now 33-year-old performer watched his father, singer Juan Fernández Flores (“El Moreno”) die on stage while they were performing together in Argentina. Two years later, while driving recklessly in his hometown, Farruquito ran over a pedestrian and fled the scene. The victim, Benjamín Olalla, died six hours later. Farruquito spent three years in prison, and the terrible accident has permeated his outlook ever since.
The dramatic events of Farruquito’s life come across palpably in the way he performs. A dancer of small stature and agile build, his facial expressions convey as much intensity of feeling as his dancing.
Farruquito is the headline act at this year’s Bay Area Flamenco Festival. The artist has been absent from local stages since 2003 when he performed at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. Born into a famous flamenco dynasty, the son of dancer Rosario Montoya Manzano (“La Farruca”) and grandson of dancer Antonio Montoya Flores (“El Farruco”), Farruquito has been dancing since he was a toddler.
Farruquito’s new touring show, Improvisao ("Improvisation") takes the performer back to his roots: “It’s a demonstration of what I’ve learned in this profession,” the artist says. “Singing, guitar, and dance fuse together with absolute freedom to create a different show every night.” In addition to his appearance in San Francisco, Farruquito is performing Improvisao around the country, with dates in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles among other major U.S. cities.
Lessons from a great
Farruquito’s chief teacher and mentor is his grandfather. El Farruco’s unique personal style -- very sober, very masculine, yet very humane -- gave flamenco a new face: the face of a patriarch that used dance to instill pride and value in his people. Farruquito has many stories to share about his grandfather. Once, Farruco was teaching Farruquito―then a child―the “soleá”. Soleá is a particular dance within flamenco -- one of the most dramatic; its name derives from the word “soledad,” meaning “solitude.”
“When you dance soleá, it is like walking on a wooden bridge,” Farruco told his grandson. “You take a false step and down you go, into the precipice.”
“What precipice?” Farruquito asked.
“The precipice of the soleá,” Farruco responded.
What the veteran dancer meant to impart to the novice with this dramatic explanation is that every dance follows a strict path with it its rhythm and beat. If you miss a beat, you fall from the dance into oblivion.
A blending of many cultures
Flamenco was born in the streets of Spain, a place where people have been dancing for millennia. In antiquity, Romans employed dancers from the Iberian Peninsula, admiring their dexterity and grace. Later, a mixture of cultures―Iberians, Jews, Muslims, Gypsies, Africans―all blended to create flamenco in the southernmost regions of Spain. There, in Andalucía, the Gypsy community took flamenco to a limitless beauty.
In Andalucía, flamenco is a way of processing life, bringing together people of all social strata and different ethnicities to celebrate religious and non-religious festivities. For many, it is a means of expressing individuality.
There are those, however, that have taken flamenco from its folk origins to a polished, highly professionalized art form. In the 20th century, the Farruco family became legendary throughout Spain and beyond for sharing flamenco with audiences around the world. As one of the most prominent inheritors of the flamenco tradition, Farruquito blends fiercely stunning and intricate rhythmic foot patterns―performed at harrowing speeds―with elegant and expressive body movements.
Watch Farruquito in action here:
“Farruquito is a vibrant young artist who has garnered world-wide recognition at the highest level as he continues to deepen his personal approach to flamenco, bringing his family's dance legacy firmly into the 21st century,” says Nina Menéndez, founder and artistic director of the Bay Area Flamenco Festival. “With Improvisao, he makes a strong aesthetic statement affirming flamenco’s improvisational essence and its roots in the vernacular culture of the Andalucían Gypsies."
A starry entourage
At this year’s Bay Area Flamenco Festival, Farruquito is joined by a roster of stars, including his favorite young female dancer, Gema Moneo. Moneo has appeared at the Bay Area Flamenco Festival on several occasions since Menéndez first introduced her to U.S. audiences in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York in 2012. Vocalist Encarna Anillo is also part of Farruquito’s entourage at the festival. When singing, Anillo strives to get beyond the technical aspects of her art form, sharing with Farruquito the desire to return to the primeval spontaneous core of flamenco.
The Festival continues on Wednesday, Mar. 9 with a collaboration between Cuban jazz wizard Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Gypsy flamenco diva Esperanza Fernández. The duo pays homage to two greats of the mid-twentieth century: Beny Moré (one of the foremost exponents of traditional Cuban “sonero” singing) and Spanish Gypsy flamenco vocalist Manolo Caracol.
For more information about the 11th Annual Bay Area Flamenco Festival go here.