When Julia Alcántara was a student at Richland College in her late 20s, she was part of a group that performed drum circles and incense-laden whirls of sitar music “and that kind of hippie-bohemian stuff,” she says. At the end of one performance, she came out twirling a flame-orange, fringed scarf. Another member of the ensemble, a classically trained guitarist, took one look at her and said, “You’ve got to see flamenco.”
Alcántara took his advice and fell hard for the intoxicating blend of song, dance, and guitar. Eventually that led her to Conte de Loyo, now in her 80s and the matriarch of Dallas’ tiny flamenco community. She took every class de Loyo offered. Alcántara left Dallas to earn degrees in art history and studio art from the University of New Mexico, but she started her own flamenco group, Ida y Vuelta, when she returned.
The Oak Cliff Flamenco Festival evolved out of that three years ago. It is still not exactly the festival she wants; Dallas, for the most part, lacks the interlocking parts that form flamenco acts. “Musicians follow the dancers, dancers follow the singer,” Alcántara says. “You have to understand all the parts because you’re all making the music.”
She counts one professional guitarist in Dallas and no professional singers. Bringing in talent is the greatest expense, with visas and international flights to consider. Last year, eight guest artists from Miami, Albuquerque, and other flamenco hubs performed. Securing singers is the hardest; there are few in the country, and most come from Spain. The 2016 festival cost $20,000 to produce, sans profit.
But Alcántara feels a responsibility to keep going. “This is the only thing that brings them all together,” she says of Dallas’ still-small flamenco community. The festival concludes with a performance at The Kessler Theater, featuring Ida y Vuelta and the guest artists. For her, though, the priority is the free events, such as Paella y Pasion, which showcases local studios’ talent, including guitarists and fusion pieces of tango and salsa, and the Bishop Arts Barrage, which features student and professional flamenco acts in multiple venues throughout the Bishop Arts District.
The Wild Detectives is the star of the Barrage, hosting an after-party where flamenco is danced under twinkling backyard lights. That kind of setup is ideal for Alcántara, the perfect environment to bring her beloved art form to more people.
“Flamenco is meant to be seen up close,” she says. “Performers’ sweat flying, their thighs shaking, stomping.”