The ocean’s movement is languid and undulating. A flamenco dancer’s movement is precise and percussive. But both move with artistically fluid finesse.
Flamenco dancer Savannah Fuentes is calling her latest show “Oceans.” And Ventura might have played a role in that decision. Fuentes will present “Oceans” Friday in Ventura and Saturday in Ojai, with guitarist Pedro Cortes and percussionist-vocalist Jose Moreno.
Fuentes, who lives in Seattle and is on a West Coast tour, had many reasons to title the program “Oceans.” Her daughter attends California State University, Monterey Bay, where she is studying marine science. Additionally, Fuentes has been haunted by news stories of dead whales washing up on shores.
“It’s a way to direct everyone’s brain and energy in the audience toward the issue,” she said.
Following a previous Ventura performance, Fuentes was stranded in town because ensuing shows on her tour were canceled. She had a contemplative week to walk on the boardwalk by the ocean. “It was a very special time for me,” she said.
Not to mention that her zodiac sign is Cancer . . . and an ocean-themed show is an opportunity to create a gorgeous new blue costume.
Flamenco is an intricate blend of singing (cante), guitar playing (toque) and dancing (baile) that started out solely as song. This art form that originally formed in the mountains of southern Spain will work just as well on the coast of California.
For “Oceans,” Fuentes said, the singing will incorporate letras — phrases of poetry — about water.
“Flamenco came out of suffering and hard times” and an intermingling of cultures, Fuentes said: Roma, also known as Gypsies, escaping the caste system of northern India, Jewish people and Moors, all mixing with Andalusians in southern Spain. During the Inquisition, Fuentes said, Roma, Jews and Moors were persecuted for not being Catholic, so they fled or hid together, and shared their cultural traditions. Later on, wealthy people hired flamenco dancers, and the art form became more mainstream, eventually moving to clubs, theaters and even appearing in films.
Fuentes, a Seattle native, didn’t start learning flamenco dancing until she was a teen, but fell in love with it as a little girl. She has both Irish and Puerto Rican ancestry, and her father spoke German because he spent time growing up in Germany, “so I never really understood my Spanish last name,” she said. But as a child, while watching a TV travel show about Spain, she saw flamenco dancers and was entranced. “I had a distinctly strong feeling: ‘That’s what I am,’ ” she said. “Now, this is my life.”
Growing up, she participated in rhythmic gymnastics, and tap, jazz and ballet, but flamenco wasn’t widespread in Seattle. She began taking flamenco dancing classes at age 17, when a teacher from Spain who had strong technique and a deep understanding of the art moved to the area. Fuentes spent time in Spain (she’s been there six times) studying flamenco dance and song, and began touring as an artist in the United States.
Fuentes said flamenco is still not widely popular in the U.S., but she thinks that will change “because of the number of Spanish-speaking people here, and more people are seeing how amazing it is. It means so much to me. It’s a really big responsibility if it’s someone’s first experience of flamenco. I want people to love it as much as I do.”
Fuentes said some people have misconceptions about flamenco, however. She laughed when talking about a recent performance at which one audience member asked for her money back.
“She thought it would be a Mexican-style party — more lighthearted, like tango,” she said. “The language is the same, but the tones, rhythms and melody are different from what people assume. It’s actually more Middle Eastern-influenced. And people want to know where the castanets are because they’ve been exposed to a stereotype.” Some flamenco dancers do use castanets, but not purists like Fuentes.
And while she wears beautiful costumes created especially for her, Fuentes shuns stereotypical fluffy, ruffled dresses adorned with giant flowers for a simpler, more modern look.
Her own flamenco education is never done, she said: Flamenco is “incredibly complex. It’s an eternal study.” Kind of like a bottomless ocean.
Savannah Fuentes performs on Friday, June 21, at 8 p.m. at The WAV, 175 S. Ventura Ave., Ventura; and Saturday, June 22, at 8 p.m. at Ojai Underground Exchange, 1016 W. Ojai Ave., Ojai. For tickets, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4235972 (Ventura) or www.ojaiartsexchange.com/events (Ojai).